Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - Feb 22, 2007
* Germany Biotechnology Biotech Corn Planting Intentions for 2007
* He Who Pays Does Not Instruct
* How Biology Will Help Fill Your Fuel Tank
* EU Council Backs Hungarian GM Ban
* Breakthrough in Plant Biotech Could Lead to Safer GM Crops
* Why Going Organic Could Cost the Earth
* Why Are GM Plants So Controversial?
* Does Biotech Have the Answer to World Hunger?
* Naturalisation Potential and Weediness Risk of Transgenic Cotton
* Agricultural Biotechnology in India
* GM Foods - More Right Than Wrong
Germany Biotechnology Biotech Corn Planting Intentions for 2007
- USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. Feb. 16,2007, GAIN Report Number: GM7006. [excerpted; Andy Apel] Full report at http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200702/146280220.pdf
"German farmers registered 3,774 hectares of cornfields for biotech variety plantings in 2007, an increase of 2824 hectares over 2006. Biotech corn production will again be concentrated in the eastern third of the country."
"According to the German genetech law farmers are required to register their biotech crop planting intentions during a clearly defined time window, the earliest registration can take place nine months and the latest three months before the actual planting. Corn is usually planted in April with latest planting by mid-May. No additional biotech cornfield registrations are expected after mid-February. Additional field trial registrations are also possible at a later time but information is not yet available.
The vast majority of biotech corn will again be planted in the eastern third of the country. The irony is that the eastern part of Germany is affected by the European corn borer to a lesser extend compared to most parts of southern Germany where there are hardly any fields planted to biotech corn.
The main reason for the stronger interests in biotech corn in eastern third of the country is due to farm size. Average farm size of eastern German farms is 202 hectares compared to 34 hectares in Western Germany. In addition, minimum distances to neighboring conventional cornfields can be maintained easier than in the predominantly small-scale farm regions of southern Germany. However, such protective distance requirements have not yet been established."
He Who Pays Does Not Instruct
- Professor Vivian Moses, Frankfurter Allgemeine, Zeitung, Feb 20, 2007. Translation from VM below.
In his article "Lohnende Gen-Mission -- Lobbyismus in den Biowissenschaften: Eine Fallstudie" (23.1.07), your correspondent saw fit to mention my name and to note that I am a member of an organisation which, horror of horrors, received funding from sources with which he is apparently not in sympathy.
As usual in such cases, he misrepresented the facts. I did not receive the funds he mentioned; they were provided for the launch of CropGen, an information service with the objective of bringing reality and reasoned argument rather than hysteria and hyperbola into the discussion of gene technology in the UK. My personal remuneration was, alas, but a small fraction of the total. Moreover, the initiative for founding CropGen did not come not from me; I was invited to be chairman by those who were already engaged upon setting it up.
It does not matter who provides funding support for an activity if the recipients maintain their independence of thought and action; what does matter is the validity of the statements made and the rigorous testing of supporting evidence, not who made the statements or where the funding came from. Regrettably, the evidence offered by those critics of agricultural biotechnology whose views your correspondent may share rarely withstands penetrating scrutiny; scare stories tend rather to be their stock-in-trade. Their presence at the Berlin workshop would, as it always does, simply have deadlocked the proceedings
How Biology Will Help Fill Your Fuel Tank
- Alan Boyle, MSNBC, Feb. 18, 2007 http://www.msnbc.msn.com
'Digestive processes point the way to cheaper alternatives to gasoline'
San Francisco - Scientists looking for new enzymes to boost biofuel production and help America kick its addiction to imported oil say they have found hundreds of prospects in the unlikeliest of places: bug guts.
That's just one of the places where researchers are looking for ways to produce alternative fuels more efficiently and less expensively. Over the next decade or so, billions of dollars are expected to go into the development of new alternative-fuel technologies - a wave of research initiatives that some compare to World War II's Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb.
"I think there's a Manhattan Project going on," said Mel Simon, a research at the California Institute of Technology and the San Diego-based biotech company Diversa. "We may not just have noticed it."
Experts surveyed their progress on alternative-fuel development on Friday here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Unlike, say, commercial nuclear fusion - which is still decades down the road - the researchers said biofuels should make an impact on the energy economy within the next decade.
Nobel laureate Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said the need for alternatives to gasoline has become "very pressing" as the price of oil has risen. "Currently, transportation fuel is the most valuable form of energy we have," Chu said. The economics is such that powering automobiles with gasoline is now four times as expensive as powering them with plug-in electricity, he said.
As part of its initiative to reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next decade, the White House is asking for $179 million over the next year for biofuel research. Private investment is just as substantial: This month, the energy firm BP announced a $500 million, 10-year initiative to support biofuel development.
From corn to cellulose For now, the focus is on producing ethanol from domestic corn for use in gasoline blends. This week, the Agriculture Department projected that the demand for ethanol would lead to a 40 percent increase in the nation's corn crop by 2016.
However, experts generally agree that corn-based ethanol won't make much of a dent in fuel demand. Some studies have indicated that the costs of producing such ethanol exceed the value of the fuel produced, and other analysts are concerned that rising corn prices could eventually lead to a food vs. fuel crisis.
That's why scientists are interested in ways to make the conversion process more efficient, with cellulose rather than corn serving as the raw material for ethanol. Theoretically, wood waste, crop waste (such as cornstalks) and grasses could be turned into fuel - significantly driving down the cost.
In one experiment, Illinois researchers converted miscanthus grass into ethanol at a rate of 2,500 gallons per acre, said Christopher Somerville, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University.
If the technology could be commercialized, Chu said, that yield would be "2.5 times higher than sugar cane," which is the crop of choice for Brazil's booming ethanol industry. Theoretically, cellulose-based ethanol could replace at least one-third of the gasoline used in the United States today, Chu said.
However, the processes for converting cellulose into ethanol are still relatively costly and inefficient. The cell walls of cellulose are constructed in such a way to discourage digestion by insects - or, for that matter, by the equipment used in ethanol distilleries. That's where the termite guts come in handy.
Going for the gut
Researchers such as Caltech's Simon have been analyzing microbes extracted from the termite's digestive system, looking for the enzymes that enable the bugs to turn wood cellulose into sugars. So far, hundreds of promising enzymes, including glycohydrolases and cellulases, have been found.
The project, which is being conducted by Diversa and Caltech as well as the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute and Costa Rica's National Biodiversity Institute, has turned up challenges as well, Simon said. "The problem with biology is that it's slow, so it takes an awful lot of termites an awful lot of time to digest a 2-by-4," he said. "There are bacteria that make essentially fuel oil, but the process is very inefficient."
The goal isn't to enlist the termites or even the bacteria per se, but to unravel the chemical pathways that the microbes use - then adapt those biological processes for more efficient artificial techniques. "In general, microbes play only one part in the process," Simon said. "Nobody can think of a superbug that can eat your table."
Brave new world
Another avenue for research is breeding cellulosic plants that are more amenable to the conversion process. That was part of the impetus behind the recent sequencing of the poplar genome - the first tree to have its genetic code fully analyzed. The genes of trees or woody plants could conceivably be tweaked to make the sugars within the cellulose easier to get at.
However, Somerville cautioned that this type of brave new world was still far off: "It's impossible that any genetically modified plants would be available before 15 years from now."
By that time, he expects the biofuels industry to be running at full speed. "Within 10 to 12 years we'll have a very substantial cellulosic ethanol industry," he said. From his point of view, the big problem may not be producing the ethanol, but having enough cars that are capable of using high-ethanol fuel blends. Currently, less than 3 percent of the nation's 250 million highway vehicles are capable of using an 85 percent ethanol blend.
Even if cellulosic ethanol production increases on a pace to replace a third of America's gasoline consumption, as the Department of Energy hopes, the dearth of ethanol-friendly vehicles could pose a "large infrastructure problem," Somerville said. "The fleet needs to turn over," he said.
EU Council Backs Hungarian GM Ban
- Anthony Fletcher, Food Navigator, Feb. 21,2007 http://www.foodnavigator.com
EuropaBio has criticised the EU's Environment Council for 'failing to support the rights of Hungarian farmers wanting to grow GM crops'. The European Commission had asked the Council to overturn the Hungarian ban on the genetically-modified maize seed that, according to the biotech association, has repeatedly been pronounced safe in EU reviews.
It has chosen not to. "Once again the Council is not following the advice of the EU's own expert advisory bodies," said Simon Barber, director of EuropaBio.
"The Council has failed in its responsibility to implement its own laws and instead today's failure suggests that the council favours state censorship rather than offering choice to farmers to decide for themselves as to whether or not to grow biotech crops; this is deeply discouraging for the future of Europe's agriculture and growth of the bio-based economy."
But the Hungarian government has been confident that it would be allowed to retain the ban. Speaking at a news conference before of yesterday's talks, Hungary's state secretary Kalman Kovacs announced that there was sufficient anti-GM feeling within the EU to ensure support for the country's stand.
Furthermore, Robert Fridrich of environmental group Friends of the Earth Hungary claimed that upholding the ban was vital to protecting the future of the Hungarian food industry for both processors and producers. "Hungary is the second biggest corn feed producer in Europe and Hungary's reputation as a GMO free country is very important to this," he said. "The European public are very much against the use of GMO products, which gives Hungary a massive advantage in the market place."
The refusal of the Council to ignore EFSA advice has precedent. Last December the Council chose to ignore the authority's advice and rejected the Commission's request to have Austria lift its illegal ban on the cultivation of EU-approved GM crops.
"By acting in this way, the Council continues to seriously damage the credibility of the EU's regulatory system which they helped to put in place and on which much of Europe's innovative and industrial capacity relies," claimed EuropaBio. "Today's decision simply denies the freedom of choice to Hungarian farmers who want to grow insect protected maize crops."
This issue goes back to1998, when the European Commission gave its consent for the marketing of Monsanto's Zea Mays L. line MON 810. A number of EU countries have now authorised the product. However, Hungary prohibited the use and sale of the product in January 2005, but its justifications for the prohibition were rejected in June 2005 and in March 2006 by the European Food Safety Authority.
On 29 March 2006, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that there is no reason to believe that the continued placing on the market of these products "is likely to cause any adverse effects for human and animal health or the environment under the conditions of its consent." This issue again underlines how polarised the issue of GM food has become in Europe. But despite the controversy surrounding the technology, GM food expansion appears inexorable.
The recent publication of new figures from The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) shows that in 2006 the number of hectares globally cultivated with GM crops increased by 12 million hectares. Most of this growth came from countries such as China and India. An EFSA colloquium will be held in June 2007 on GMO environmental risk assessment involving environmental experts from across Europe, details of which will be announced during Spring 2007.
Breakthrough in Plant Biotech Could Lead to Safer Genetically-Modified Crops
- Beth Krane, U. Conn Press Release, Feb. 21, 2007
STORRS, Conn. — University of Connecticut plant biologists have developed a tool, called a "GM-(genetically-modified)-gene-deletor," that could prevent genetically-modified gene flow into non-biotech crops or weeds, an invention that may help alleviate public concerns surrounding genetically-modified plants. The technology could be particularly useful to confine genetically-modified genes used in vegetatively-propagated, undomesticated bio energy crops, like poplar, willow and switchgrass.
Controlling the flow of transgenic genes into the wild via pollen and seeds has been a huge concern to the public and a major challenge for scientists specializing in agricultural biotechnology. The technology, developed in UConn Associate Professor of Plant Science Yi Li's laboratory and published in the March issue of Plant Biotechnology Journal, provides a successful method for eliminating all of the transgenic genes from pollen and seeds if needed.
UConn's GM-gene-deletor technology also could allow farmers to produce non-genetically modified consumer products, such as seeds, fruits and flowers, from transgenic plants. "For example," Li explains, "herbicide-resistant genetically-modified traits are primarily needed to protect crops during growth prior to seed or fruit development. The GM-gene-deletor could initiate the gene deletion process immediately prior to seed or fruit development, so farmers would get the benefit of the added crop protection during a critical growth stage without the unintended consequence of the uncontrolled spread of a herbicide-resistant gene, which could create 'super weeds,' as some believe."
UConn's GM-gene-deletor also could be used in crops that are genetically modified for the production of pharmaceuticals to block the accidental transmission of these traits into food crops through seed or pollen.
The new UConn technology also holds the potential to end a long-standing debate on so-called "terminator" gene or "terminator" seed technology that has pitted major agricultural biotechnology companies against poor farmers in developing countries.
The terminator technology inserts terminator or suicidal genes into genetically-modified seeds to ensure that no genes from genetically-modified crops contaminate non-genetically-modified crops. This process protects the companies' patents and could alleviate some of the same consumer concerns Li's technology addresses, but at the expense of poor farmers in developing countries, who would have to buy fresh seeds every year, because the terminator gene system renders the genetically modified plants sterile.
The terminator technology has yet to be commercialized because of the problems it poses for farmers in developing countries.
"With our technology," said Hui Duan, one of Li's former doctoral students and a co-author of the published research, "the seeds the farmers save will not have genetically-modified traits. The farmers would need to buy new seeds each year if they want the crops to have genetically-modified traits such as insect resistance or herbicide resistance. But if they did not want to do so or could not afford to do so, they would still be left with viable seeds to replant."
Li's group at UConn started this project in 2000 with funding from Connecticut Innovation Inc. (CII), the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research (CPBR)/ U.S. Department of Energy and UConn. The team and their collaborators in China and at the University of Tennessee reported a novel use of two site-specific DNA recombination systems to assemble a highly efficient gene eliminator that specifically targets the foreign genes.
By incorporating these systems into the genome of the genetically-modified plants, the scientists found the undesirable genes were removed from the pollen and seeds of the plant with as much as 100 percent efficiency.
Because of the exceptionally high deletion efficiency observed in the their experimental plants, Li and his collaborators expect an enormous potential for the technology to be used in large-scale plantings of agricultural crops and as well as genetically improved trees and bio energy/biofuel and pulp generating plant species.
Why Going Organic Could Cost the Earth
- Liz Hull, Daily Mail (UK), Feb. 20, 2007
A UK government report was cited as claiming that, despite its eco-friendly image, some organic farming creates greater pollution and contributes more to global warming than produce grown using pesticides and fertilizers.
According to the study, certain organic foodstuffs -- such as milk, chicken and tomatoes -- produce more greenhouse gases, create more soil and water pollutants and require more energy and land for their production than those farmed by conventional methods.
The story says that as the first major report on the environmental impact of organic food production, the document will reignite the debate over the £1.6billion industry, which grew by almost a third last year alone and now accounts for four per cent of farm produce. The market is forecast to be worth £2.7billion by 2010.
Ken Green, professor of environmental management at Manchester Business School, who conducted the research with the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, was quoted as saying, "You cannot say that all organic food is better for the environment than all food grown conventionally. If you look carefully at the amount of energy required to produce these foods, you get a complicated picture. In some cases, the carbon footprint for organics is larger."
The story adds that the study comes as organic farmers reel from last month’s comments by Environment Secretary David Miliband, w ho suggested organic food was simply a "lifestyle choice" and there was no evidence it was a healthier option for consumers. Even the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir David King, has previously expressed his reservations about its overall benefits compared with chemically treated produce.
Why Are GM Plants So Controversial?
- http://www.gm.org, Feb. 19, 2007
Although genetically modified plants seem to provide the answer to the increasing nutritional needs of the food shortage worldwide, many countries seem to think twice before making use of the technology to increase harvest yields. There are even some countries that have banned the use of genetically modified plants in their territories. Why is this so? Why is it that a probable solution to a global problem seem to see itself in many controversies?
The problem may seem to come from the technology being a relatively new one. Although genetic engineering has already been practiced for decades, it is only the recent couple of decades that advanced gene manipulation has been able to bring about some genetic engineers' prized creations. But as recent as their GM plants have been developed, its long term effects in the world in general cannot yet be predicted accurately. Although there are many theories surrounding the possible scenarios when genetically modified plants have been put to general use all over the world, there are many people who are convinced with the belief that the disadvantages may far outweigh the possible benefits that such plants may be able to bring into the open.
True enough, such discoveries can truly revolutionize farming and harvesting crops that are able to yield more than the usual plant species. But the concern may come from the possible consequences that may happen after such plants are made a part of the dinner table or even a part of life in general. A simple example would be involve those GM plants that produce their own insecticide. Yes, there are already such genetically modified plants that can do that. But the big question that would come from most people may concern the safety of consuming such plants. A plant that produces its own insecticide can be a scary thing to have in anyone's dinner table or kitchen.
Another controversy that surrounds the use of genetically modified plants is that people believe once it is brought out into the open and becomes a generally accepted method used in increasing harvest yields, the spread of genetically modified plants breeds may prove to be too much of a challenge to put a stop to in case of any problems cropping up with its use. Many opponents of genetically modified plants believe that such plants can easily contaminate the natural gene pool of the plants. And since such biologically engineered plants are designed to be better, bigger and stronger, there is always this fear of the genetically modified plants eventually winning over the natural plant breeds and eventually run them out of existence. This will further result into the possible depletion of the number of plant species that will bring them to their eventual extinction.
Controversies truly abound when it comes to talk about genetically modified foods and plants. Such fears are further fueled by many news reports from all over the world that tell of some untested or "for labs only" GM plants accidentally contaminating some farming areas that may have led to scares and further concern among the public. Not helping to the cause would be the sly tactics of some companies in the genetically modified plant business in trying to introduce their new plant strains to farmers at times in full disregard to the eventual consequences. The level of fear over the use of genetically modified plants has overtaken over their perceived benefits. What GM proponents may need to do now is to assure the ever growing and ever concerned public about the safety of such developments as well as how genetic modification can further be used to help mankind instead. As of now, it may still be a tall order, but they have to start someplace.
Does Biotechnology Have the Answer to World Hunger?
- http://www.gm.org, February 12, 2007
World hunger is still a perennial problem in most parts of the world. Biotechnology has provided a possible solution through the development of genetically modified crops, known to be the superplants of the future. Genetic modified crops, according to many proponents, will be the answer to the problem posed by a vast shortage of food in different parts of the world.
The advent of the so-called "superplants" has generated a lot of excitement all over the world, especially in developing countries facing a hunger crisis. The promise of better GM plant strains that are able to provide bigger and better harvests for farmers that will be able to feed more of the population has become too irresistible an opportunity to set aside. But there are questions that still remain unanswered that is worrying others, even through all the buzz surrounding the many benefits that genetically modified plants are said to offer.
There are fears that still surround the biotechnology world about GM or genetically modified plants. With promises of being able to end world hunger, still there are others who fear that such plants may also bring about new problems that may need some looking into. One of the fears stem from GM plants being being bred to become more weed and pest resistant. Opponents believe that this will, in time, bring about the development of super weeds as well as super pests that become resistant to conventional and even the strongest herbicide and pesticide products. Many also fear that such super plants may be able to unintentionally cross-pollinate with natural plants and will eventually eradicate such plant strains in a certain area by being replaced with a crossbreed plant strains. There are also others that worry about super plants being able to upset the delicate balance in nature with grave and unforeseen consequences.
All these concerns have somewhat hampered the quick propagation of GM crops all over the world. The only answer it seems is that scientists must first be able to provide an answer to all the fears and concerns that GM opponents have with such plants and crops. Seems like until then, not all people may welcome the idea of the super plants to be the solution to all the problems of world hunger. Such dreams may be put by the wayside for the meantime, that is until scientists and GM proponents are ready with the answers and the solutions that will ease the worries and change the minds of people opposed to the worldwide distribution of GM strains of super plants.
Prediction of the Naturalisation Potential and Weediness Risk of Transgenic Cotton in Australia
- Rogers, D., Reid, R., Rogers, J., Addison, S. 2007. Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment. 119: 177-189.
Climex® climate-matching and inferential-modelling was used to examine the naturalisation potential of genetically modified and non-transgenic Upland Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum variety hirsutum) in Australia north of latitude 228S. The Weed Risk Assessment (WRA) protocol, used by Biosecurity Australia to evaluate new plant importations into Australia, was used to produce an overall assessment of the weediness risk for non-transgenic, Bollgard II1 and Roundup Ready1 Flex cottons in north-east Australia. Because neither the Bollgard II1 nor the Roundup Ready1 characters conferred any advantage in the north-east Australia environment, the transgenic status of the plant did not alter the naturalisation potential or weediness risk.
The WRA score of cotton in north-east Australia (-5) indicates that it has essentially zero risk of establishing as a weed in this area, especially when compared to WRA scores of other major crop plants and the competing weed species.
Agricultural Biotechnology - The Impact on Rural Economies with Particular Emphasis on India
Dr. Chong Singsit, E-PAO, Feb. 19, 2007, via Vivian Moses (Continued from yesterday)
Full article at http://www.e-pao.net/epPageExtractor.asp?src=education.Agriculture_Biotechnology_II.html..
Agricultural biotechnology in India
Agriculture in India is one of the most prominent sectors in that country's economy. Agriculture and allied sectors such as forestry, logging, and fishing account for 18.6% of the GDP in 2005, employing 60% of the country's population, and making up for 8.6 % of India's exports. About 43% of India's land use is attributed to agricultural activity. Despite a steady decline in its share in the GDP, agriculture is still the single largest economic sector and plays a significant role in the overall socio-economic development of India. Unlike the Western world, the average agricultural land holding in India is very small and not more than one hectare per household. Moreover, these lands are inadequately maintained and may be classified as below the threshold of production levels. Since land holding is limited, continued increases in population make any attempts to increase agriculture production an important topic in modern India with its teeming millions.
Countries like India, where land holding is not expandable, must resort to other means of increasing their agriculture production in order to feed their ever-growing population. Agricultural biotechnology with its potential and promises may be one answer to providing food and nutritional security to the ever-expanding population of India. With appropriate strategy and proper implementation of new technologies, countries such as India, can benefit from AB. The overall economic impact of implementing new technologies is yet to be realized.
India with its emerging democracy and growing economic power has seen a shift in the last few decades in the way business is conducted. The Federal government is more willing to venture into a market economy by privatizing financial institutions. As a consequence of this move, capital is more readily available to the common people and is being invested in new businesses. India, on the other hand, is also one of the largest agriculture-based economies in the world. With her agriculture output continuing to decline for the last decade, many factors have been attributed to this decline: the effects of disease, pests, and weeds, unprecedented climatic conditions, limited water, poor land conditions, drought, and heat. But a recent report by the National Commission on Farmers strongly suggests that the hope for the future increases in productivity, sustainability, and profitability for the farmer lies in agricultural biotechnology.
The recent successes of AB in India can be attributed to the introduction of Bt cotton in 2002. Cotton is an important crop in India and shared 25% of world acreage under cotton cultivation. The cotton business engaged some 60 million people, whose life depends on cotton. India's textile industry accounts for the single largest export but add up to only 12% of the world's cotton. India has seen a tremendous growth in cotton production since the introduction of Bt cotton technology. Bt cotton brings significant benefits to Indian farmers in the following ways: 1) reducing the costs of spraying of pesticides, 2) increasing overall yields, and 3) bringing benefits in terms of economic security and environmental safety, and thereby peace of mind to the farmers. India for the first time had more land (3.8 million hectares) under GM cotton than China (3.5 million hectares) according to the International Services for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications. In a nutshell, Indian farmers are continuing to expand acreage under Bt cotton because it delivers consistent benefits in terms of reduced pesticide use and increased income. The farmers welcome the commercial production of genetically modified cotton as a miracle solution for hard-hit cotton growers. Director of Public Affairs, Monsanto India, filed the following report as a direct benefits derived from planting Bt cotton in India:
1. The planting of Bt cotton with the proper implementation of pest management strategies as suggested by Central Institute Cotton Research (CICR) can delay resistance by 30-40 years.
2. The department of biotechnology at CICR research concluded that Bt technology is good for pest management and helps farmers, but the technology needs to be refined.
3. The Indian Institute of Management study has concluded that the net profit per hectare to farmers from Bt cotton cultivation has more than doubled. As an added bonus, the spraying against bollworm was reduced on average by 4-5 sprays, a saving of US $25 per acre.
4. According to the Indian Market Research Bureau, farmers who have planted Bt cotton in 2006 are more likely to earn an additional US $1.5 billion in income, based on an estimated planting of 8.6 million acres, and the rural income is expected to increase by 36 per cent.
5. Since its introduction in 2002, Bt technology has witnessed a phenomenal increase in Bt cotton acreage with more than 2 million farmers adopting the technology. This increase in acreage is a positive statement about the continuing success and acceptance of the technology in India.
Another application of AB is to develop genetically modified crops that can be used as raw materials for biofuel, which can be an engine of economic growth. India with its increasing middle class with growing buying power is seeing passenger cars becoming an essential part of life. India with its teeming millions with little natural fuel reserves of its own can use an additional supply of biodiesel. But the available domestic fuel reserve cannot meet daily needs. It can help reduce poverty, promote rural development, strengthen trade and economy and agricultural sustainability, and also deliver direct benefits to farmers and consumers. Meanwhile, companies are reinvesting their profits to develop future products that include drought tolerance varieties.
The green revolution versus the GMO revolution
The term "Green Revolution" is applied to successful agricultural experiments in many Third World countries. It is a general term referred to a period from 1967 to 1978 marked by quantitative expansion of farmlands and increased agricultural production. It is not specific to India, but the program was most successful in India. Three basic criteria characterized the success of the Green Revolution: 1) the use of genetically improved seeds; 2) the continued expansion of agricultural farm areas; and 3) the application of double cropping.
Several years of rigorous research efforts by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) yielded genetically superior seeds. The agency developed new varieties of high yield value (HYV) seeds, mainly wheat and rice, and to some degree millet and corn. Dwarf varieties and dependence on artificial fertilizers characterized the new high yielding varieties of wheat and rice. On the surface, the green revolution may have been impressive, but several limitations were observed which make the green revolution inferior to the GMO revolution. The limitations of the green revolution are: 1) the long-term achievement failed to bring India the status of being totally and permanently self-sufficient in food, 2) the varieties' dependence on heavy doses of fertilizers fails to make it cost effective, 3) the failure to extend the high-yield value seeds to all crops, 4) the failure to expand the benefits of the green revolution to all regions of the country, 5) the heavy requirement of chemical fertilizers by high yielding varieties, and 6) no provision for the protection of the environment under the green revolution plan.
For a country such as India with massive population and small land holding per family, the prospect for the GMO revolution is brighter than those achieved under the green revolution. Under the GMO plan, the genetic traits are transferable across crop species irrespective of whether the species are cross compatible. The rewards are realized mainly by planting genetically superior seeds. The seeds can be packaged potentially to contain all the desirable traits. Traits like resistance to insect pests, diseases, herbicides, etc., can be packaged in seeds.
Carefully packaged seeds with multi-traits are available to any one who is engaged in agriculture irrespective of their land holdings and will benefit from it. Seeds can easily be transported and sold to farmers across the country and can cover every region of India. This was one point with the green revolution that kept it localized to the northwestern part of India. Since the seed contains its own protection mechanisms, reduced or no chemical spray applications will be needed thereby protecting the environment from excessive exposure to artificial chemicals. In summary, higher returns, a longer expansion, and friendly to the environment are attributes of the GMO revolution and GM products. On the other hand, the Green Revolution was short-lived, mechanical, costly, and does not sufficiently meet the sustainability of the food supply for India.
The debate is still ongoing when GMOs are discussed. Regardless of the controversies debated by scholars, politicians, professionals, and activists, GMO products are changing our world. And for many in the world, the average farmer sees these changes as being for their good, their family's good, and for bettering their land. Despite the GMO controversy, growth in genetic engineering continues. Biotechnology along with Information Technology may be the prominent economic force in the 21st century. One final note, Agricultural Biotechnology is the dreams and hope of subsistence farmers, and for those who put tireless efforts to see the developing world transform into a stable self-reliant world.
- Transgenic crops in the pipeline - THE HINDU (India) October 1, 2006 - Pawar
- Impacts of US agriculture of biotechnology-derived crops planted in 2003. National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy in Washington, D.C., October 2004.
- Why Green Revolution - limitations of green revolution -- ICAR Publication
Dr. Chong Singsit, Research Scientist & Manager GMO Testing Services at a Biotech Company, USA, writes regularly to e-pao.net. You can email the writer at singsit(AT)earthlink.net; This article was webcasted on February 18th, 2007.
Genetically Modified Foods - More Right Than Wrong
- Joe Cameron, The Cave of Kallipolis, February 19, 2007
Genetically modified foods should not be banned because their upside is much greater than their downside. First and foremost, without going into details of how they can actually directly be beneficial to people, banning them would be taking away a persons right to choose. It would be taking away the option for an alternative; one that may actually even be the better choice for a multitude of reasons. Our freedoms are in many cases what define our country and how we live, with the freedom of choice being one of the main benefits we have. Beyond this argument of the freedom of choice, however, comes one with more scientific value; one that defends the genetically modified foods themselves rather than just our choice to eat them if we want. Genetically modified foods have benefits to both the consumer and the producer of the products, proving them to do more right than wrong in our world today.
"...Consumers stand to benefit by development of food crops with increased nutritional value, medicinal properties, enhanced taste and esthetic appeal." First off, I would like to point out how genetically modified foods can actually be of a higher quality than "natural" foods. By higher quality, I mean both the taste of the food, as well as its nutritional value. One of the biggest factors people use in deciding what food to buy is how good it tastes. If we like the way one pizza company's product tastes better than another's, we're simply going to go with the one we like more often than not. The same goes for genetically modified foods. If an orange is genetically modified to taste better than a regular orange, we're going to want to eat it because it will be more satisfying to us. That same orange, however, can also be improved in its nutritional values with some genetic modifications. Who can say no to the same product that offers you more of the good stuff; the stuff that keeps you healthy. If we can alter our products to make our everyday diets more healthy, then why not take advantage of that technology to do so? Health is of extreme importance to people, and banning genetically modified foods will in many cases take away the most healthy option.
Foods can also be modified to have other benefits even beyond taste and nutrition. For example, animals can be modified to grow faster, become more lean, and need less food. Also, specific animals such as cows could be modified to produce more milk at a greater rate. Modifications such as these would lead to a much higher rate of productivity from farmers and such, which would in turn reduce the costs the consumers would have to pay. Crops can also be modified to be herbicide resistant, meaning farmers could easily kill the harmful weeds without destroying any of their crops at all. Some other possible modifications that are currently being tested are apples that resist insect attack, bananas free of viruses and worm parasites, coffee with a lower caffeine content, cabbage that resists caterpillar attacks, melons that have a longer shelf life, and sunflowers that oil with lower saturated fat. None of these things have been released just yet, but some are under heavy consideration. For example, genetically modified salmon, which could possibly grow about 30 times faster than natural salmon, may soon be approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to be released into waters in the United States. It's easy to see how things such as these would help both the producers and the consumers of all these products. If we have the technology to make such improvements, there's no sense in holding back from doing just that.
Another reason genetically modified foods should not be banned is the economics behind it. They can be economically beneficial to both the producers and the consumers. "Growing genetically modified crops can result in economic benefits for farmers. This is the conclusion of a study by the European Joint Research Centre (JRC). However, the benefits are not always due to higher yields, rather are mainly caused by savings on herbicides, pesticides and machinery." Farmers would have to use less herbicides as well as not have to worry about losing any crops with them being genetically modified to be protected from things that are known to harm them. It's simple math. Also, they would in many cases be able to produce things faster with the proper genetic modifications, which would make their jobs much easier and more profitable. The abundance of products created through genetic modifications will lead to them being cheaper. These are important factors for everyone, as money is obviously important to everyone. People are always looking for the product that makes the most economic sense to them, and producers are always looking for the ways to make the most profit. For something to make this much sense on both sides of the issue, it would be very unfortunate for it to not be implemented.
In conclusion, genetically modified foods should not be banned because of all the benefits they'll bring to the numerous different people affected. Better tasting, more nutritious products will be produced much more efficiently, and they will be available for cheaper prices, while still allowing the producers to make more money. There is simply too much good that can come with genetically modified foods to place a ban on them.
February 21, 2007; Joe's Rebuttal
One of the main arguments made by the pro side was that genetically modified foods should be banned because they can cause allergic reactions to people that can even be deadly. This isn't a very valid argument because it's a pretty big generalization. First of all, not everyone is allergic to the same thing. If we were to ban things that random people were allergic to, our lives would be without much of the foods and drinks we encounter every day. "Eggs, cows milk, peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are the most common foods causing allergic reactions, but almost any food has the potential to trigger an allergy." Imagine if we put a ban on any of these things? That wouldn't be too fair to the public at all. "Food allergies can be pervasive and potentially life-threatening." Allergies caused by genetically modified foods aren't the only ones that can kill you. You can't ban something just because some people may be allergic to it.
Another argument that went along with the allergy one was the whole peanut gene in a potato scenario. I think everyone can agree that if a company that produces potatoes somehow manages to mix in some peanut genes on accident then they aren't a very efficient company, and they're certainly not good at what they do. They probably shouldn't be in any type of business at all. First off, I feel like that would be an absolutely ridiculous scenario of which the chances of it happening are extremely slim. Secondly, I don't think you can ban something all together based on the idea that someone may end up doing their job wrong. What if an airplane manufacturing company slips in a car engine instead of a plane engine into one of their planes? Should we ban airplanes, or cars, or engines?
In the last part of my rebuttal, I would like to point out a quote from the pro's argument as to why genetically modified food should be banned. "GM food can be used for good but should be done in a strictly controlled environment that does not affect the natural world." This plan doesn't sound like a ban to me. If the person arguing why we should ban genetically modified foods feels like this, then why should we even question it?