Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - November 29, 2006
* Let Them Eat Cake
* Peanut Gene Breakthrough May Lead to Allergen Free Nuts
* Seminar Modifies the Debate on Genetics and the Food Supply
* Wheat: Better Eating Through Chemistry
* Scientist to Humanitarian
* How Nepad and the UN Can Save Africa's Agriculture
* Burkina Faso to Launch Production of Transgenic Cotton in 2007
* States and the Federal Government: Coordinated Framework for Biotech
* More Regulations On Horizon, Advisors Told
* Debate on GMOs Triggered by Passion
* Inexorable Advance of GM Tide
* Michael Crichton Targets Biotech in his "Next" Novel
Let Them Eat Cake
- Editorial, Investor's Business Daily, Nov. 28, 2006 http://www.investors.com
Science: Would environmentalists rather let the hungry in Africa starve than give up their goal of eradicating genetically modified foods?
Wish we didn't have to ask such a question. But how could we not after hearing the latest demands from the Friends of the Earth?
The environmental group held news conferences Monday in Ghana and Sierra Leone to express its concerns about genetically modified organisms and ask the governments of those nations to recall food aid containing genetically modified rice originating in the U.S.
The organization also is urging African governments to immediately stop accepting untested rice food aid and commercial imports from the U.S. The comments of Cheryl Agyepong, a foe of genetically modified foods and an activist with Friends of the Earth Ghana, were representative of the environmentalists' myopia toward what they derisively call "frankenfood."
"We don't want genetically modified rice in our fields," she said, "and we call on our government to take all necessary measures to prevent any possible contamination of our seeds."
Arthur Williams, of Friends of the Earth Sierra Leone, went his colleague one better by resorting to hyperbole. "We are a nation just recovering from years of civil war," he said, "and now to attack us in this manner is now making our people once more vulnerable."
It gets sillier. Nnimmo Bassey, who's with Friends of the Earth Africa, wants the world to believe the West sees starving Africans as cheap research tools for corporations. "We refuse to be used as guinea pigs in big business's experimentations," he said.
Friends of the Earth claims the genetically modified rice that is intended to stave off mass hunger is not fit for human consumption. It also insists that the rice — known as LLRICE601 by its maker, Bayer CropScience, and marketed under the brand name LibertyLink — is illegal.
Did the environmentalists just move from embellishment to outright lies? Just Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture formally approved LLRICE601 for use. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service today announced that after a thorough review of scientific evidence it will deregulate genetically engineered LLRICE601 based on the fact that it is as safe as its traditionally bred counterparts," the USDA said in a statement.
The statement also said that the Food and Drug Administration "has concluded that the presence of LLRICE601 in the food and feed supply poses no safety concerns." This wasn't some secret decision arrived at overnight. The inspection service published a notice Sept. 8 in the Federal Register that Bayer was petitioning the USDA to deregulate LLRICE601 and asked for public input. A public comment period followed and was closed on Oct. 10.
No environmentalist can point to a single person who's been killed or even injured by a genetically modified food. Yet the entire world knows Africans die in large numbers due to starvation from famine, despotic governments and other preventable complications. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 34% of the population -- 194 million people -- reportedly goes hungry every day.
Friends of the Earth? Maybe. Friends of Africans? Not a chance. If they were, they wouldn't do something so morally reprehensible.
Peanut Gene Breakthrough May Lead to Allergen Free Nuts
- Stephen Daniells, Food Navigator, Nov. 29, 2006 http://www.foodnavigator.com
Scientists have identified a new gene in peanuts that codes for a protein with no apparent allergic effects, research that opens up the possibility of allergen-free GM nuts.
The identification of the new gene, called ara h 3-im, by researchers from the University of Florida offers some hope for estimated 2.5 million people in Europe and the US now vulnerable to the food allergy.
"If it is true that Ara h 3-im has lower allergenic properties than other Ara h 3 proteins, this study may provide the information necessary to produce a hypoallergenic peanut through silencing of the major allergens and selecting for the reduced allergenic polypeptides via mutational breeding and/or genetic engineering," wrote authors I-H Kang and M. Gallo.
While it is too early to tell if such a peanut will be available for the food industry in the foreseeable future, escalating incidences of food allergies in Europe and the desire to avoid potentially harmful consumer confusion underpinned changes to the Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC due to enter into force this month that essentially flag up to the consumer possible allergens in a food product.
The amendment heralds the mandatory inclusion on food labels of the most common food allergen ingredients and their derivatives: cereals containing gluten, fish, crustaceans, egg, peanut, soy, milk and dairy products including lactose, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seed, and sulphites.
There is no current cure for food allergy and vigilance by an allergic individual is the only way to prevent a reaction but a peanut allergy can be so severe that only very tiny amounts can be enough to trigger a response.
"Although about 20 peanut allergens have been reported, Ara h 1, Ara h 2 and Ara h 3 are classified as important major allergens which are recognized by more than 50 per cent of peanut allergic patients," explained the researchers.
"Ara h 1 and Ara h 2 are recognized by 70 to 90 per cent of patients with peanut allergy, and Ara h 3 is recognized by serum immunoglobulin E from approximately 44 to 54 per cent of different patient populations with a history of peanut sensitivity," they said. The new research, published in the journal Plant Science, reports that a previously unidentified complementary/cloned DNA (cDNA) produces a protein with potentially reduced allergenicity.
The researchers report that Ara h 3-ims novel N-terminal sequence is different and distinct from the other allergens. This changes the proteins ability to bind to immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody that is capable of initiating powerful immune responses. Using a technique called immunoblotting the researchers report that these distinct differences were translated into the Ara h 3-im polypeptide not being recognized by IgE, isolated from blood taken from peanut sensitive patients.
This opens up the opportunity to genetically modify or breed mutationally a peanut with the allergen Ara h 3 replaced by the non-allergen Ara h 3-im. "Initial results indicate that Ara h 3-im has potentially lower allergenic properties than previously characterized peanut allergens which may aid in the production of a hypoallergenic peanut," concluded the researchers.
Significant further research is needed, but one of the main challenges to the continued development of this technique will be consumer acceptance, particularly in Europe, and most notably in the UK, if the research follows the genetically modified route.
Source: Plant Science; doi:10.1016/j.plantsci.2006.09.014 'Cloning and characterization of a novel peanut allergen Ara h 3 isoform displaying potentially decreased allergenicity'; Authors: I.-H. Kang and M. Gallo
Seminar Modifies the Debate on Genetics and the Food Supply
- Janet Helm, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 29, 2006 http://www.chicagotribune.com
Nothing about food stirs up a debate quite like biotechnology. The thought of tinkering with genes in plants or animals hits a nerve for some folks, who are either frightened or morally opposed to genetically modified, or GM, foods (dubbed "Frankenfoods" by critics).
Proponents praise the potential of biotechnology to practically save the world--helping to increase the food supply, address hunger and malnutrition in developing countries, and reduce our reliance on pesticides.
Rarely is the topic discussed without intense emotion. That's why the Illinois Humanities Council is hosting statewide "conversations" on genetics and food, bringing together an ethicist, geneticist and food historian to objectively examine the issue from various perspectives.
"We wanted to strip away the typical pro and con debate and take a look at genetics through the lens of the humanities," said Dimitra Tasiouras, director of programs and partnerships for the council, which held a public forum Oct. 28 at the Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago titled "Future Perfect: Conversations on the Meaning of the Genetics Revolution."
A lack of public engagement has been part of the reason behind the current mistrust of GM foods, according to panelist Vivian Weil, a professor of ethics at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. She said the public often sees a risk attached to a new technology if they think scientists are moving too fast and they feel uninformed or "out of the loop."
Jocelyn Malamy, associate professor in the department of molecular genetics and cell biology at the University of Chicago, believes people are jumbling up a lot of food-related issues--including organic vs. non-organic and sustainable agriculture--and erroneously putting them under the biotechnology umbrella.
Malamy said it is impossible to fully condemn or embrace genetically modified foods because they are not all created equal. Biotechnology is a "process" and not an entire category of foods, she explained. Each GM plant needs to be evaluated individually.
Currently, the only two types of GM products on the market include "Round-up Ready" plants bred to be herbicide resistant and "Bt" plants that contain a gene taken from a bacterium that provides a built-in defense against harmful insects, which can reduce pesticide use.
This technology has primarily been limited to soybeans, corn, canola and cotton. Malamy believes adequate testing of these existing products should quell safety concerns. Other prototypes in the works include nutrient-enhanced rice, drought-resistant plants and higher-yielding plants that require less fertilizer.
Bruce Kraig, president of the Culinary Historians of Chicago, noted that farmers have long modified the genetic makeup of crops through selective breeding. Biotechnology is an evolution of traditional crop breeding that allows the transfer of a single gene instead of mixing thousands of genes when two plants are crossed.
A misunderstanding about the science is at the core of the mistrust, said Malamy. She said it's important to ask questions about adequate safety testing, government oversight, labeling and other issues. But she hopes confusion does not prevent the public from accepting the "idea" of biotechnology. She believes multiple benefits can be derived from the science.
But judging from the strong opinions voiced by some agitated audience members, that acceptance may take some time.
Wheat: Better Eating Through Chemistry
- Minnesota Daily, Nov. 29, 2006 http://www.mndaily.com
A gene found in wild wheat may hold the key to better nutrition.
Mentioning genetic engineering often elicits shrieks of terror from traditionalists, but it may be the key to improving worldwide standards of living. We aren't talking about creating chimeras or super-intelligent dogs; a simple manipulation of domestic wheat genes could yield huge nutritional benefits.
Agriculture has always been a mixed bag for humankind. While the benefits of growing one's own crops are undeniable, agriculture usually results in a homogeneous diet and nutrition is often sacrificed. Anthropologists have often noted a decline in general human health associated with the rise of agriculture. Although medical and nutritional advances have offset this agricultural penalty, scientists are trying to go a little further.
Israeli and American scientists recently isolated a gene that may begin a radical change in agriculture. A newly discovered gene in wild wheat was inserted into domestic wheat and boosted protein, zinc and iron content. The increase, roughly 10 to 15 percent, could improve the lives of millions. Currently, around two billion people suffer from iron or zinc deficiencies, and millions of children fail to ingest enough protein. The implications of this discovery are staggering.
Optimistically speaking, the modified wheat could start being released within a year, and there is no reason to hesitate. The overly cautious will moan about the "unnaturalness" of such a project, but many other plants are genetically modified all the time. The wheat endeavor is additionally benign because it merely combines genes from two related plants. This is a far cry from the mixing of fish and tomato genes that has been practiced in the past.
Genetically modified crops that benefit humanity should be in vogue, but dollar bills often dictate other courses. This reality makes the modified wheat an even more triumphant story. Hopefully this will not remain a scientific rarity.
In the humanitarian business, there can never be enough help; hopefully Bono won't mind sharing the spotlight with some scientists.
Scientist to Humanitarian
- Rachel Melcer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Nov. 27, 2006 http://www.stltoday.com
Rob Horsch, who spent 25 years pioneering biotech crops and building up Monsanto Co., is a bit boggled by his new job: spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fight hunger in the developing world.
"I actually don't know how to think about this and how to talk about it," he said in an interview at Monsanto's Creve Coeur headquarters, just days after retiring from that company to start his new post at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle.
Horsch left his longtime home and colleagues to follow a dream, albeit a daunting one. At the world's largest philanthropy, flush with funds recently donated by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, Horsch is senior program officer for agricultural development.
His task is to find and fund the most promising means for helping the poorest of the world's poor - the more than 700 million people who live on less than $1 a day, depend on small-scale farming and often are hungry. "I think, I hope I've got a set of experiences and skills that are unique and can make a difference," he said.
As a scientist, Horsch helped develop methods of genetically modifying crops to withstand herbicide applications and kill harmful pests. He created products that reduce the use of environmentally damaging pesticides, make it possible to farm without tilling to limit soil erosion, and boost crop yields.
As a businessman, he watched the bottom line and focused on projects that brought billions of dollars to Monsanto. He translated scientific theory into products bought by farmers and planted on millions of acres each year.
But it as a humanitarian that Horsch hopes to have the most impact. Since 1995, he was Monsanto's vice president for international development partnerships, responsible for working with public and nonprofit entities to bring modern farm products and technologies to the developing world.
The work was rewarding, he said. But it can't match the scope and freedom he anticipates having at the Gates Foundation. Horsch said his annual budget, though large, is "a drop in the bucket" compared with amounts spent by governments or on global trade. But it comes with a freedom companies and countries lack - he is not constrained by a profit motive, or a big bureaucracy and politics. "That brings a unique power to it," he said.
Yet the Gates Foundation, created by one of the world's most successful entrepreneurs with his Microsoft Corp. fortune, has a decidedly business-like bent. Projects must pan out with measurable benefits, or they are cut, Horsch said. There is no room for sentimental favorites or throwing good money after bad. That will be true even for approaches Horsch holds dear, such as the use of genetically modified crops.
Raj Shah, the foundation's director of agriculture and financial services and Horsch's boss, summed up the priority: "What we really focus on are the scientific and technological breakthroughs that will save lives, end hunger, dramatically impact poverty and increase security."
Much of that can be achieved, Shah said, through conventional strategies such as the use of improved hybrid seeds and fertilizers, educating farmers and increasing their access to markets. Many scientists, including Horsch, believe great results will come from the next generation of biotech crops - those modified to survive in a drought, or with added nutritional benefits.
But the Gates Foundation doesn't want its hiring of Horsch to be seen as it advocating agricultural biotech. Each country must decide on its own whether to use the controversial technology, though the foundation will do what it can to provide accurate data and make sure those are informed choices, Shah said.
Horsch "has been a tremendous leader in science and technology in agriculture. He's also a leader in the sense that he's spent a lot of time in Africa ... and he understands the full-value chain that's needed to help farmers improve their lives and their livelihoods," he said.
Jerry Steiner, executive vice president of commercial acceptance at Monsanto, said only people who haven't worked with Horsch would expect him to push biotech crops over all else. "People who know Rob Horsch know that he's a guy who looks at problems and at what needs to happen first" to build sustainable economies.
Horsch promised to endlessly ask questions, seek advice and listen. "The ultimate answer lies in empowering individual people with choice and freedom. They'll tell you when you're giving them something they value and something they don't," he said. "It's about what people want and need - and not just what's right and wrong" from your perspective, or even based on scientific proof.
Still, that doesn't mean Horsch will shun technology. Genetic analysis is helping breeders to more quickly identify and produce non-biotech crops that have improved yield and other agronomic traits. Biotech crops are being planted and showing value in South Africa, India, China and other developing nations.
And there is much to be gained through information technology, Horsch said. Farmers can use the Internet to see local, national and global prices for their crops, or to learn about the latest agricultural techniques.
At Monsanto, Horsch started a project to transform humanitarian aid - simple handouts of high-yielding hybrid seed - into development assistance that can support a local economy. Rather than cutting out local seed merchants, who couldn't compete with giveaways and would go out of business, the program uses them as distribution points. Computerized card-readers are installed at shops to identify farmers entitled to seed and credit the merchant for giving it to them, in a method similar to the American food stamp program.
Roger Beachy, president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a nonprofit basic research institute in Creve Coeur, said he sees Horsch as a well-rounded advocate, "not wed to biotechnology. ... He will help Gates to identify the areas in which they can have the most impact." At the same time, however, Horsch has a pioneer's appreciation for crop biotechnology, its promise and pitfalls, Beachy said.
Monsanto's early missteps in promoting genetically modified crops led to a backlash that persists today. Horsch "has been through the wars. ... He knows what can go wrong if the public is not well-informed," Beachy said.
The Danforth Center - already a Gates Foundation grant recipient for a project aimed at improving the nutritional value of cassava - hopes to build on that relationship and help Horsch in his work, Beachy said. Monsanto, too, "wants to work with (organizations) like the Gates Foundation and allow them to incorporate our tools, to the extent that our tools can make a difference," Steiner said.
Horsch said he expects to tap local institutions in his new role. "St. Louis will be a resource for me ... because it is one of the most important centers of plant science research in the world," he said. People here "will be more helpful to me than I will be to them."
Horsch said he is excited about his new role, and daunted by the challenge. Helping to feed the poor is a moral and societal imperative and, having seen the impacts of hunger on human health and communities, he feels an urgency to begin. "Not everything is going to work, and nothing is going to work fast enough or big enough," he said. "But you can't think about that too much or it will drive you crazy to think that you can't solve it today."
How Nepad and the UN Can Save Africa's Agriculture
- James Wachai, Nov. 27, 2006 http://www.gmoafrica.org
Last week, twenty United Agencies (UN) agencies met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to explore how they can help the New Partnership for African Development (Nepad) achieve its objectives.
Nepad's main mission is to end chronic poverty in Africa, by, mainly, integrating innovative agricultural technologies, such as biotechnology, into African countries' economies.
Agriculture being the mainstay of most African countries' economies, Nepad should exploit the resources at various agricultural-oriented UN agencies to facilitate its rejuvenation. There is the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that has, for many years, been championing the rights of African farmers. The World Health Organization (WHO), on the other hand, has been very resourceful in giving expert guidance on food safety, the most memorable one being a declaration that genetically modified foods don’t pose health risks on consumers.
It must, however, be stated that the success of this initiative largely depends on Nepad's willingness to persuade African farmers and policy makers to be ready to embrace more productive agricultural technologies such as biotechnology. UN agencies alone cannot bring prosperity to Africa. African farmers and policy makers must realize that the world, now, is a global village, where countries freely share technologies.
Nepad has already made recognizable progress in convincing Africa to integrate modern agricultural technologies, such as biotechnology, into their economies. Nepad's science and technology secretariat, through policy briefs, conferences, and position papers, has been actively touting modern agricultural biotechnology as the new frontier to food security.
Just three months ago, Nepad released a draft position paper on potential applications of modern biotechnology in African countries’ economies. To be tabled during the African Heads of States meeting in January, next year, the paper, among other things, asks African governments to integrate modern biotechnology into their development plans. It calls for an integrated approach to agricultural biotechnology.
All these efforts are commendable, but Nepad still can do more. To ensure Africa benefits maximally from, for example, modern agricultural biotechnology, Nepad must intensify efforts to help African governments develop biosafety policies. It can do this by volunteering technical assistance.
Collaboration with a UN agency such as the World Health Organization (WHO), which has been active in research on the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), would be helpful. Such an agency can help correct misinformation that attends the debate about genetically modified foods.
Burkina Faso to Launch Production of Transgenic Cotton in 2007
- Agence France Presse, November 24, 2006
Ouagadougou - Africa's largest producer of cotton, Burkina Faso, is to introduce transgenic cotton to the market in June 2007 in a bid to increase production and fortify a crop susceptible to insects, the country's largest textile firm said on Friday.
The plan has sparked concern from organisations that believe genetically modifed organisms pose a potential danger to the environemnt and human health and will not solve Africa's farming problems.
"There is no longer any obstacle to introducing transgenic cotton in Burkina. It was scheduled to be introduced in 2008 but the authorities want it to be in 2007," said Celestin Tiendrebeogo, director of the Society of Burkina Fibers and Textiles (Sofitex). "This new technology will reduce the cost of production for farmers and eliminate the predators of the cotton sector," added Agriculture Minister Salif Diallo.
Burkina launched trials of genetically-modified Bt cotton in 2003. Cotton production accounts for 60 percent of state revenue and supports four million people. Producers hope transgenic cotton will lead to a 30-percent increase in production per hectare and a reduction in the use of insecticides, Tiendrebeogo said.
But the Coalition for the protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN), a grouping of sub-Saharan farming and consumer organisations, voiced concern at the prospect. "We have real concerns about a hasty (decision) ... on the introduction of transgenic cotton in Burkina Faso," the association warned.
COPAGEN and another regional organisation called JINKUN said in a statement in September that the Burkina government had begun trials of Bt cotton in 2003 without first setting up any regulatory controls, under pressure from US biotech firms Monsanto and Syngenta, and the US state departments for development aid and farming.
Introducing transgenic cotton was "a Trojan horse" that would allow such biotech multinationals to bring a whole range of GM crops into Africa, they said. "The problems of cotton in the sub-region today have nothing to do with seeds or productivity or yields," their statement said.
"In general terms, GMOs are not a solution for Africa. The major problems that agriculture faces in our countries include incompetent water management, low soil fertility in many regions, lack of access to the means of production, in particular around issues related to land, lack of access to loans at acceptable interest rates, and the processing of our raw materials on our own continent.
"Faced with these problems, there are a number of solutions other than GMOs, solutions that are scientifically controllable, economically profitable and socially sustainable."
COPAGEN and JINKUN urged the region's leaders not to accept Bt cotton, saying it would "open the door to the introduction of all genetically modified seeds in agriculture and food".
States and the Federal Government: What the Coordinated Framework for Biotechnology Means for Working Together
Report Highlights a Conference from NASDA-PIFB
In May 2006, the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) held a workshop examining issues relating to the federal regulatory system governing agricultural biotechnology—known as the Coordinated Framework—and the appropriate role for state agriculture agencies in that system.
The workshop, which took place in San Diego, CA, was the third in a series of workshops sponsored by the Pew Initiative and NASDA. Participants included representatives from state and federal regulatory agencies and Departments of Agriculture, as well as several experts in food safety, plant and animal health, pesticide law and the regulation of genetically engineered (GE) plants, animals and microbes. All gathered to discuss lessons learned from state experiences navigating the current regulatory scheme and to explore and develop potential models and ideas for enhancing communication and collaboration between state and federal representatives in navigating the Coordinated Framework and the oversight of GE crops and animals.
* The Coordinated Framework does not contemplate the involvement of state government agencies in the regulatory process. At the same time, the Coordinated Framework does not preclude the cooperation that exists between state and federal agencies, and some of the laws governing the regulation of agricultural biotechnology require interaction between state and federal regulators.
* State agricultural officials have an obligation to protect the safety and economic interests of the residents in their states. This obligation prompts states to develop more formal partnerships with their federal counterparts.
* States do not seek to be co-equal partners with the federal government in the regulation of agricultural biotechnology, however, state agricultural officials often find they must answer to farmers, the media, state legislatures, and the interested public on these issues.
* Some state laws exist regarding biotechnology, requiring state agencies to act regardless of the actions of the federal government.
* Many state officials acknowledge the need to more fully understand the complex federal regulatory system, so they can better consider how to communicate and partner with relevant federal agencies and better meet the twin objectives of protecting public health and environment and promoting wholesome agricultural products.
* Many state officials seek to formalize a proper level of cooperation, coordination and collaboration between federal and state agencies on biotechnology issues.
An overview of the conference agenda and the full paper from the workshop, entitled Opportunities and Challenges: States and the Federal Coordinated Framework Governing Agricultural Biotechnology, can be viewed at: http://pewagbiotech.org/events/0524. In addition, proceedings from the first workshop on sharing confidential business information between state and federal agencies involved in agricultural biotechnology oversight, can be found at: http://pewagbiotech.org/events/1214
Proceedings from the second workshop on potential options for advancing peaceful coexistence in the marketplace and understanding the existing and future roles of the public and private sectors in achieving this goal, are available at: http://pewagbiotech.org/events/0301.
More Regulations On Horizon, Advisors Told
- Harry Cline, Western Farm Press, Nov. 27, 2006
Disneyland may be the happiest place on earth, but California Pest Control Advisers at the annual meeting of their professional organization were less than thrilled to hear still more regulatory horror stories about what awaits them in the future.
California's agriculture is already the most highly regulated in the nation if not the world. More than 900 PCAs at the 32nd annual gathering of the California Association of Pest Control Advisers heard there is still more oversight coming for the state's PCAs.
The state-licensed, college educated PCAs were praised for their role in maintaining the strength of California's $33 billion agricultural economy and protecting its 350 commercial crops from onslaught of pests. They were told how they are trusted by growers to make the right pest management decisions.
And in almost the same breath, they were told that PCA licensing requirements are about to become more strict. One speaker even suggested the new PCA requirements coming soon from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) may include taking a test annually to maintain their license. PCAs now are only required to take continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.
They were told they were going to have to do an even better job of pest management and recommend more alternatives with likely fewer tools. And they were told if they make mistakes complying with the regulatory process, it will be more costly than ever before with fines five times larger than current penalties.
They were also tantalized a bit by Peggy Lemaux from the University of California, Davis plant and microbial biology department, who is a well-respected international expert on genetic engineering for agriculture.
Lemaux has been speaking on agricultural biotechnology since 1991. This new, yet controversial issue has advanced dramatically since first introduced commercially in 1995. There are now 90 million acres of transgenic crops worldwide, and 48 million acres are in the United States.
This covers basically five crops: corn, cotton, canola, soybeans and the newest, Roundup Ready alfalfa. There is also genetic engineered squash and papaya. Herbicide tolerance and resistance to worm pests through insertion of a Bt gene are two primary transgenic traits in the major commodity crops.
Lemaux said there are more that have been developed. However, she was not optimistic they would ever reach commercialization due to the continuing controversy swirling around transgenic crops. Some of those include tomatoes resistant to root knot nematodes, salt tolerant crops, potatoes resistant to late blight, potatoes genetically modified to improve nitrogen uptake and the one that drew the most attention, the "enviropig," a pig genetically engineered by Canadian scientist to emit no phosphorous in its manure. A major issue in pork production is the contamination of water by phosphorous in swine manure.
This new batch of transgenic wizardry was tantalizing because PCAs would like to have available new, more benign pest management tools to deal with future pest management challenges in the wake of new regulations coming down the road.
DPR tacitly endorsed transgenic crops when Paul Gosselin, DPR chief deputy director, suggested wider use of genetically modified crops could be a solution in meeting draconian, new stricter air quality rules to reduce fumigants.
DPR has been charged with reducing pesticide VOCs in five federally designated "non-attainment areas" of the state, including the San Joaquin Valley, the heart of California's agriculture. According to EPA, VOCs from pesticides contribute to smog. Cars and trucks are bigger contributors, but it is agricultural pesticides that are being targeted.
Gosselin said DPR will target first fumigants with proposed VOC-reduction regulations due out early next year aimed at reducing VOC losses from fumigation by injecting fumigants deeper and better tarping. There also could be regulations forcing growers and shipper who use fumigants to ship products overseas to capture exhausts from these chambers.
The PCA, said Gosselin, will have input into the final rules to help DPR direct research into reducing fumigant emissions. DPR also will be looking for PCAs to provide better documentation in their fumigant recommendations, as well as an economic analysis of fumigations.
Gosselin pledged that any future DPR action will "preserve the pest management needs" of California agriculture. "We need your input and guidance in this process," he said.
Debate on GMOs Triggered by Passion
- Financial Express (India), Nov. 27, 2006
At a time when India is making global headlines and is well positioned to emerge as a major player in the global biotech sector, the progress in biotechnology comes with its own share of perceived risks - to biodiversity, food security, health and economy. To allay the fears, 135 countries support the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, an international legal agreement under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). "It is the only international law that deals specifically with respect to genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms (GMOs)," says Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary, UN Convention on Biological Diversity. "While developing countries need to have laws and regulations on biosafety, India is fast emerging as a role model for others in framing their regulatory framework," he informs Sudhir Chowdhary. Excerpts:
Don't you feel biotechnology continues to be mired in controversy?
It's not unusual. As you are aware, modern biotechnology is one of the new knowledge-intensive technologies that have the potential to make a valuable contribution to the improvement of the socio-economic welfare of mankind, particularly in the field of agriculture, medicine, industrial development and environmental protection. Indeed, some countries, including India, have rapidly embraced this technology.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications 2005 report on the global status of commercialised biotech/GM crops, the total agricultural area coverage for approved GM crops grew to 222 million acres in 2005, up from 200 million acres in 2004, marking an annual growth rate of 11%. In the coming years, biotechnology is likely to become one of the key driving forces of our daily lives-from the food we eat, the medicine we use, to the fuels that power our cars.
At the same time, let me reiterate that the technology could also have potential adverse effects on biodiversity and human health if not properly regulated, managed and controlled.
What is being done to ensure proper regulation at a global level?
We have the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety in place. It is the first international regulatory framework for biosafety. The Protocol was adopted in January 2000 and entered into force from September 11, 2003. As such, it sets out a comprehensive regulatory system for ensuring the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) with a clear focus on trans-boundary movement. But, is it really effective?
The Protocol has received remarkable support and steady progress is being made in its implementation. The number of parties to the Protocol continues to grow, and currently stands at 135. This is a clear sign of the confidence of the global community places in it.
What practical steps have been taken to ensure the practical implementation of this global initiative?
The governing body of the Protocol - the Conference of the Parties to the Convention serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Protocol (COP-MOP)-has adopted several decisions, which focus on operational modalities, tools, mechanisms and work programmes, including the Biosafety Clearing House, an action plan on capacity, building, the coordination mechanism for capacity-building activities, among others.
So, what progress has been made in implementing the Protocol?
Thanks to the Global Environment Facility (GEF), progress has been made in some areas, particularly with respect to the development of the national biosafety frameworks. Through this, more than 130 countries have completed or are about to complete developing their National Biosafety Frameworks; at least 12 countries, including India, are in the process of implementing their frameworks with support provided through UNEP, UNDP and the World Bank.
What has been the role played by the Global Environment Facility? Is it a funding agency?
It is currently the largest donor for biosafety capacity-building activities. According to the recent survey carried out by the Institute of Advanced Studies of the United Nations University, the GEF has, over the last five years, invested close to $60 million in biosafety capacity-building projects, including the India-World Bank/GEF Project on capacity building in biosafety. This accounts for more than 40% of the total bilateral and multilateral funding assistance for biosafety. It is also important to note than of the $3.13 billion for the fourth GEF replenishment over the next four years, more than $80 million will be spent on biosafety projects.
Do you feel India has an effective biosafety framework?
India has developed a robust regulatory framework for GMOs. It is also advanced when it comes to biosafety. As a result, it will show the way to other countries when it comes to conserving nature and making use of its gifts sustainably and with equity. With its enabling policy environment, India is committed to achieving the 2010 biodiversity target. It will also emerge as a role model for other countries in framing their regulatory framework. And not just India, we expect cooperation from other countries to have an international regime on access and benefit-sharing by 2010, wherein the concerns of developing countries are adequately addressed.
Why do you think Indian farmers are wary of adopting GM crops?
I know there is a lot of anxiety with regard to GMOs here. This, however, is normal. When you deal with life, you cannot be impartial. You have to be intensely involved. The debate on GMOs and LMOs is triggered by passion and emotion.
Inexorable Advance of GM Tide
- Western Morning News (Plymouth) Nov. 21, 2006 http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk
You reported (October 18) that organic producers in Cornwall insist that future GM farmers must be liable for the full cost of any contamination. Some points need to be made clear:
1. Cultivation of GM crops near organic plantings has no effect whatsoever on the practice of organic procedures. If there were significant cross-pollination, the 0.9 per cent labelling threshold for GM material might be exceeded and a label would have to be attached. That might reduce the value of the organic crop, always supposing markets for GM and non-GM products are differentiated. In Spain, where much GM maize is grown, there is no such differentiation.
Also, there is no legal limit for the presence of GM content in organic produce; the rules are that GM materials must be avoided, not that there may be no adventitious presence. The same 0.9 per cent threshold for GM labelling applies to organic as to other products.
2. The Government is developing procedures facilitating co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture, based on separation distances which will almost always ensure that cross-pollination does not result in non-GM products having more than the 0.9 per cent requirement for labelling. Sometimes that limit might be exceeded in spite of adherence to the rules; in such cases it would be right for non-GM farmers to be compensated.
But equity demands parallel compensation for GM farmers who might be prevented from pursuing their legitimate business. Actual or would-be GM farmers could suffer losses if the regulations prevented them planting GM crops on part of their land. Consideration should be given to how they are to be compensated for suffering the burden of regulation so that non-GM neighbours may farm unimpeded.
The issues are complex and will not be resolved by one or another group jumping up and down, claiming exclusive consideration for their own position with none for that of others.
GM agriculture is advancing all over the globe and will, in time, also do so in the UK. It is no use pretending the tide can be stopped. It is more sensible to make appropriate arrangements, and that the Government is now doing.
- Professor V Moses, Chairman, CropGen London SW1A 1WE
Michael Crichton Targets Biotech in his "Next" Novel
Is a loved one missing some body parts? Are blondes becoming extinct? Is everyone at your dinner table of the same species? Humans and chimpanzees differ in only 400 genes; is that why a chimp fetus resembles a human being? And should that worry us? There's a new genetic cure for drug addiction--is it worse than the disease?
What's coming Next? Get a hint of what Michael Crichton sees on the horizon in this short video clip: high bandwidth or low bandwidth
We live in a time of momentous scientific leaps, a time when it's possible to sell our eggs and sperm online for thousands of dollars and to test our spouses for genetic maladies.
We live in a time when one fifth of all our genes are owned by someone else, and an unsuspecting person and his family can be pursued cross-country because they happen to have certain valuable genes within their chromosomes...
Devilishly clever, Next blends fact and fiction into a breathless tale of a new world where nothing is what it seems and a set of new possibilities can open at every turn.
Next challenges our sense of reality and notions of morality. Balancing the comic and the bizarre with the genuinely frightening and disturbing, Next shatters our assumptions and reveals shocking new choices where we least expect.
The future is closer than you think.
"This wasn't about the common good. It was about getting rich.", November 28, 2006
Reviewer:E. Bukowsky "booklover10" (NY United States) - See all my reviews
Michael Crichton's "Next" is another screed along the lines of "State of Fear," his diatribe against global warming. Be warned: this lengthy novel consists of short chapters in which the author constantly goes back and forth from one subplot to another. You will need a scorecard to keep track of who is doing what to whom and why. There are greedy venture capitalists; researchers who try untested therapies on humans; and hypocritical scientists who say that they care about humanity, when their real goal is to fatten their bank accounts and aggrandize their reputations.
The United States government provides billions of dollars in grants to academic institutions for biotech research. The universities, in turn, have developed close ties with wealthy corporations. Among the questionable practices in our brave new world are: patenting genes, experimenting with and selling human tissue without the consent of the donor, and using genetic testing to deny health insurance to subscribers who test positive for heart disease, breast cancer, or other life-threatening illnesses.