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January 3, 2007


Answer to Poverty and Hunger; Super Peanuts Funded; Dreaming of a GM Christmas; Mad Cow Breakthrough; Innovation in Africa; Targeting Freedom


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - January 3, 2007

* GM Food is Answer to Poverty and Hunger
* US Farmers May Soon Plant 'Super Peanuts'
* Uber Economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs on Biotechnology - Video
* I'm Dreaming of a GM Christmas
* Mad Cow Breakthrough? Genetically Modified Cattle Are Prion Free
* Transgenic Crops (an organic view!)
* Science and Innovation in Africa: New Strategies for Economic Growth
* Targeting Freedom

GM Food is Answer to Poverty and Hunger

- Rob Edwards, The Sunday Herald (Glasgow) Dec. 24, 2006 http://www.sundayherald.com

People are being urged by Scotland's new chief scientific adviser to embrace genetically modified (GM) food as an answer to poverty, hunger and toxic pollution.

Professor Anne Glover, herself a genetic engineer, is urging consumers to ignore labels like "Frankenstein foods" because they are misleading and damaging. The potential benefits of GM crops are "huge", she says, and the risks "extremely small".

But her enthusiasm for GM food has infuriated environmentalists, who fear she could exert an important influence on Scottish ministers. They argue GM crops are "potentially dangerous" and point out that they have been widely rejected by the public and supermarkets.

Glover, a molecular biologist from the University of Aberdeen, was appointed chief scientific adviser earlier this year by Nicol Stephen, the deputy first minister. She is an expert on microbes and has genetically engineered bacteria to glow in the dark.

She has taken luminescence genes from deep sea organisms and transplanted them into soil bacteria. The healthier the soil, the brighter the bacteria glow, making it possible to use them as biological sensors for measuring environmental contamination.

It's that research which informs Glover's view of GM foods. "I'm absolutely in favour of genetic manipulation carried out under appropriate guidelines," she told the Sunday Herald. GM food could help end poverty and hunger in the world, as well as reducing farmers' use of hazardous pesticides, she said. "I think GM crops might well be able to help us in addressing some of these issues."

Crops could be engineered to resist drought, or to have a higher nutritional value, she argued. They could also be developed to produce biofuels to use as a renewable fuel for vehicles. Blight-resistant GM potatoes being trialed in England could help Scotland's potato market, she suggested. GM crops could also deliver cheaper foods with longer shelf lives. "They have a significant amount to offer, globally, in terms of how they could be used to better produce crops under difficult conditions and to reduce the amount of chemicals used in agriculture," Glover said.

The public debates that had so far taken place had been "really poorly informed", she added. "There's an astonishing lack of knowledge about genetic modification." Glover also said that she didn't understand why people were prepared to eat fast food that was high in fat and preservatives known to be bad for health, but were worried about GM.

Glover was particularly concerned about the widespread use of the term "Frankenstein foods" to describe GM products. "That's really unhelpful," she said. "We need to learn from what's happened over GM foods to ensure that we don't allow developing new technologies to be hijacked by phrases which are all to do with headline-grabbing and nothing to do with reality."

But her views were fiercely rejected by the Soil Association, which promotes and certifies organic food. "There is no evidence whatever that Scottish consumers want GM products in their food supplies," said Hugh Raven, the association's director in Scotland. "If the Scottish Executive's advisers can't grasp that in a democracy it's not very clever to foist potentially dangerous new technologies onto reluctant consumers, God help us all."

Raven pointed out that several studies had raised questions about the safety of GM organisms for human consumption. Some showed that modified genes could transfer into bacteria in the human gut.

Scottish ministers have postponed a long-promised consultation on the "coexistence" arrangements under which GM crops might be grown north of the Border until next summer. No GM crops have been grown in Scotland since trials of GM oil seed rape ended in 2003.

The Scottish Greens' environment speaker, Mark Ruskell MSP, has proposed a bill to Holyrood to make GM companies strictly liable for any economic damage caused by contamination from GM crop trials and commercialisation. "I think the professor needs to wake up to the reality of GM crops and to the basics of plant biology. Once the GM genie is out the bottle, there is no going back," Ruskell said.

"She only needs to look to Canada where farming businesses have been left crippled after their crops have become contaminated. Given that GM crops would ruin the Scottish agriculture industry, I'm at a loss as to why the government's chief scientific adviser is determined to push this agenda."

Glover, however, stressed that scientists should not impose GM onto an unwilling public. They should explain the benefits, leaving it up to people and politicians to decided what they wanted.


USA: Farmers May Soon Plant 'Super Peanuts'

A leading industry group has given scientists the go-ahead to build genetically engineered peanuts that could be safer, more nutritious and easier to grow than their conventional version. The work could lead to peanuts that yield more oil for biofuel production, need less rainfall and grow more efficiently, with built-in herbicide and pest resistance - traits that have already been engineered into major crops such as cotton, corn, soybeans and canola.

For consumers, the work could lead to peanuts with enhanced flavor, more vitamins and nutrients, and possibly even nuts that are less likely to trigger allergic reactions, a life-threatening problem for a small percentage of the population and a major food-industry concern.

A few researchers have been genetically modifying peanuts for at least a decade, but their discoveries have had little impact because the industry, fearing a consumer backlash, was reluctant to support the work. However, with the two leading peanut-producing countries, China and India, working aggressively on transgenic peanuts, the American Peanut Council and its research arm, the Peanut Foundation, this month approved a major policy change. The council represents all segments of the industry - growers, shellers, exporters and manufacturers.

The foundation urged scientists to move ahead with "due diligence" on genetically engineered peanuts. The work is expected to cost about nine-point-five million dollars and will require university, government and industry support.

The peanut is Georgia’s official state crop, and Georgia’s 4,800 peanut farmers produce 42 percent of the nation’s output. Peanuts are grown in 80 counties, and account for more than 50,000 jobs in Georgia.


Video: Economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs on Biotechnology


About one billion people -- or one-sixth About one billion people -- or one-sixth of the world's population -- live in extreme poverty on less than $1 per day. Dr. Jeffrey Sachs -- director of The Earth Institute and UN Millennium Project -- has been involved in identifying the challenges to and solutions for poverty alleviation for more than 20 years. He describes the need and potential for the benefits of biotechnology in agriculture to help the poorest farmers grow more food and convert subsistence agriculture into commercial farming. (Hat Tip - Andy Apel)


I'm Dreaming of a GM Christmas

- Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade & Technology. Dec. 29, 2006 http://www.truthabouttrade.org

Wouldn’t it be great to have Christmas trees that didn't shed their needles?

Now that Christmas is over, our trees are really starting to dry out. After we take down our ornaments and move the tree out, our vacuum cleaners are bound to get a workout.

To be sure, we already have trees that don't shed needles. They’re called artificial trees. But what about a version of the real kind that isn’t nearly so messy?

Perhaps biotechnology will offer that choice. This exhilarating field of science is on the verge of changing the way we think about forest products, as well as just about everything else that grows.

Crop farmers know how important GM plants have become to conventional agriculture: More than half of the corn and cotton and virtually all of the soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified.

In the future, many of the trees that are transformed into consumer products--paper for our printers, boards for our homes, and Christmas trees for Santa--also could benefit from biotechnology.

The Canadian Forest Service has experimented with trees that contain the same core traits as the familiar GM crops of soybeans, corn, and cotton: Almost ten years ago, it planted a group of poplars to demonstrate the feasibility of the concept, and in 2000 it began to grow another variety that contains the very same Bt ingredient that has revolutionized agriculture around the world.

We’re a long way from commercialized GM trees, but it isn’t hard to imagine the possibilities. Scientists at Michigan Tech have experimented with trees that are specifically designed to produce qualities that are desirable in the manufacture of paper. Environmentalists should celebrate: It means more paper from fewer trees.

Researchers also have investigated the possibility of creating trees that resist Dutch elm disease. Yet another project is looking into the ability of GM trees to suck up hazardous chemicals through their roots--an ingenious way to clean up toxic sites.

These may sound like exotic applications, but biotechnology is turning science fiction into science fact. In recent weeks, we’ve seen reports on genetically modified bacteria that literally eat cancerous tumors and produce a protein that makes cancer patients more likely to respond to medical therapies.

Scientists are also on the verge of developing allergen-free peanuts--a boon to many people, from those who suffer from this acute malady to school-room mothers who plan parties for first-grade classrooms.

Researchers at Texas A&M are trying to invent edible cottonseeds. "If cottonseed were safe for human consumption, the 44 million metric tons of cottonseed the world produces each year could provide the total protein requirement for a half-billion people," says one member of the team behind this innovation.

Edible cottonseed is apparently still at least a decade away from anything even remotely resembling a widespread application--as are so many of these promising products. The science is far from perfected, and it will have to win regulatory approval before commercialization.

Many advances in crop biotechnology will be comparatively mundane. Some seed researchers believe that U.S. corn yields will more than double over the next couple of decades, from 163 bushels per acre this year to 350 per acre in 2030. This has enormous implications for the price of food. Because much of this corn presumably will be turned into ethanol, it also has implications for the price of fuel and America’s energy independence.

It would take a true Grinch to oppose all of this. Unfortunately, there are plenty of Grinches out there who would like nothing better than to rob us of biotechnology’s promise: For the most part, they are anti-scientific know-nothings who respond emotionally rather than intellectually to the issue.

In the classic Dr. Seuss story about the Grinch, of course, the villain has a change of heart when he comes to understand the true meaning of Christmas. Perhaps the same thing will happen to anti-biotech activists in the years ahead, as some of these amazing new technologies come on line.

Personally, I don't need any convincing. But I do want a Christmas tree that doesn't shed needles. I hope that somewhere a biotech expert is already trying to find a solution.

Until then, I’ll be dreaming of GM Christmas.

Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade and Technology.


Mad Cow Breakthrough? Genetically Modified Cattle Are Prion Free

- Science Daily, January 1, 2007 http://www.sciencedaily.com

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have announced initial results of a research project involving prion-free cattle. ARS scientists evaluated cattle that have been genetically modified so they do not produce prions, and determined that there were no observable adverse effects on the animals' health.

This U.S. cow and others like her are safe from mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) thanks in large part to ARS research on the disease and other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. "These cattle can help in the exploration and improved understanding of how prions function and cause disease, especially with relation to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE," said Edward B. Knipling, administrator of ARS. "In particular, cattle lacking the gene that produces prions can help scientists test the resistance to prion propagation, not only in the laboratory, but in live animals as well."

Prions are proteins that are naturally produced in animals. An abnormal form of prion is believed to cause devastating illnesses called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), the best known of which is BSE.

ARS studied eight Holstein males that were developed by Hematech Inc., a pharmaceutical research company based in Sioux Falls, S.D. The evaluation of the prion-free cattle was led by veterinary medical officer Juergen Richt of ARS' National Animal Disease Center (NADC) in Ames, Iowa. The evaluation revealed no apparent developmental abnormalities in the prion-free cattle.

Richt said, "The cattle were monitored for growth and general health status from birth up to 19 months of age. Mean birth and daily gain were both within the normal range for Holsteins. General physical examinations, done at monthly intervals by licensed veterinarians, revealed no unusual health problems."

ARS, with assistance from researchers at Hematech and the University of Texas, evaluated the cattle using careful observation, post-mortem examination of two of the animals, and a technology that amplifies abnormal proteins to make them easier to detect. Further testing will take at least three years to complete.

The evaluation was reported today in the online version of the scientific journal Nature Biotechnology. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.


Transgenic Crops (an organic view!)


This publication describes the basics of genetic modification or genetic engineering for agricultural purposes and presents a brief history of the technology and the governing policies surrounding it. The publication offers a brief overview of the main agricultural crops that have been genetically modified, the characteristics they express, and the market roles they play.

Unintended consequences, economic considerations, and safety concerns surrounding the cultivation and dissemination of transgenic crops are also discussed. Biopharmaceutical aspects of transgenic crops are also briefly addressed. Economic, legal, and management concerns associated with these types of crops are discussed, as well as political and regulatory aspects. Implications of transgenic technologies for sustainable agriculture are briefly addressed.

(From Prakash - This glossy publication from an organic group dwells exclusively on the purported negatives of transgenic crops under a project funded by USDA to NCAT - http://www.ncat.org/agri.html )


Science and Innovation in Africa: New Strategies for Economic Growth

- International Journal of Technology and Globalisation 2(3/4) 2006; Edited by Prof Calestous Juma, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society last year.

The papers are revised versions of chapters that were first published by The Smith Institute in a volume entitled, Going for Growth: Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa.

The papers underscore the role of science, technology and innovation in development in general, and in international cooperation in particular. They signal the growing interest in making the transition from short-term, relief-based activities to long-term development, based on building competence at all levels of science.

Download link at http://inderscience.blogspot.com/2007/01/special-issue-science-and-innovation.html


Targeting Freedom

- Angela Logomasin, The Washington Times, Jan. 1, 2007 http://www.washingtontimes.com

Is environmentalism dead? An essay highlighted in the New York Times in 2004 sparked a debate that continues today. The essayists, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, lamented that "people in the environmental movement today find themselves politically less powerful than we were one and a half decades ago."

But a new book published by scholar Bonner Cohen, "The Green Wave," sets these ideas on their head. Mr. Cohen shows how environmental activists have had -- and continue to have -- a substantial influence on policy around the world. Their influence is clearly visible through their advocacy of the so-called precautionary principle, which holds that new technologies should be proven safe before they are used. The problem is that you can't prove a negative, so applying this "principle" essentially grants regulators arbitrary power.

Mr. Cohen notes that early versions of the precautionary principle appeared in several international documents, including the United Nations World Charter for Nature (1982), the Nordic Council's International Conference on the Pollution of the Seas (1989) and the Rio Declaration of Environment and Development (1992).

Environmental groups formalized the concept in 1998 when an assembly of 31 activists in Wisconsin released the "Wingspread Declaration." It notes: "when an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically." A similar version of this principle was essentially endorsed by 180 nations as a provision of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000).

Mr. Cohen highlights how environmentalists have been able to use this "principle" to justify a host of foolish and often dangerous policy ideas. Consider biotechnology. Mr. Cohen notes that genetically modified (G.M.) crops have undergone extensive study by the world's top scientific bodies. All report that G.M. foods pose no more risk than conventionally grown crops.

Yet the greens are undermining biotechnology's use by arguing that no one can prove it safe, which threatens the critical role that G.M. food could play in expanding food production to meet the needs of the world's growing population.

In 2002, for example, Zambia and Zimbabwe's governments locked up warehouses full of U.S. G.M. corn that was donated by the American government to help feed people during a famine in these two nations.

"We would rather starve than get something toxic," exclaimed Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa. (Apparently, anything not proven safe must be "toxic.") But the starving citizens at home didn't agree; they eventually broke into the warehouses and seized the corn.

The precautionary principle is also being used to justify a massive expansion of Europe's chemical regulations under the so-called REACH proposal, writes Mr. Cohen. REACH -- which stands for registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals -- will impose a massive new paperwork structure on industry and will likely lead to product regulations and bans that will be very costly.

The United States will be affected because many of our firms export goods to Europe. Moreover, the greens and their allies at the U.N. are looking for ways to globalize the program. In fact, the U.N. has recently formed a program called the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), which is slated to provide a voluntary regime to manage chemical use worldwide. Activists are working to ensure that this program follows the precautionary principle.

During the past round of negotiations, U.S. negotiators prevented direct reference to the precautionary principle in the program's founding documents. However, the documents read that the program will "take into account" the wording of the Rio Declaration, which basically endorses the precautionary approach.

Supposedly, SAICM's "voluntary nature" makes it an innocuous program. But Mr. Cohen shows how activists use such non-controversial, "voluntary" programs as part of a long-term strategy to advance binding programs. Their model is the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which started out as a voluntary initiative only to become an internationally binding program.

The Kyoto Protocol on global warming, Mr. Cohen points out, also started with a voluntary agreement, but eventually became an international treaty. The U.S. government has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, but the U.N. has received enough national ratifications to make the program binding on those nations that ratified the treaty.

Mr. Cohen shows that environmentalism (and its calls to limit technology and progress) is alive and well. "The green power structure," Mr. Cohen eventually concludes, "now has a prominent and well-padded seat at the table." Unfortunately for those who prefer more freedom and less regulation, the environmental movement "will not be dislodged easily."
Angela Logomasini is director of risk and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.