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February 27, 2007


'Operation Cremate Monsanto'; Grow GM or Face Strife; Europe Impedes Progress; Biotech fuels; Whole Foods v. Whole Earth


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - February 27, 2007

* Why Did "Operation Cremate Monsanto" Fail?
- Science and Class in India's 'Great Terminator-Technology Hoax'
* Grow GM Crops or Face Strife: Australian MP
* Taverne's Case Is, Essentially, Indisputable
* Europe Impedes Improvement of Crops in the Developing World
* Growth Plays: Biotech Goes to the Garden
* GM Foods Pose No Danger to Health
* Biofuels – Is There A Role for GM?
* USDA Reports On Biotech In Brazil
* Experiences and Lessons from the UNEP-GEF Biosafety Projects
* Risk Assessment Dossiers for the Deliberate Release of GM Crops
* Plant Breeding and Biotech - Societal Context and the Future of Ag
* Whole Foods v. Whole Earth

Why Did "Operation Cremate Monsanto" Fail? - Science and Class in India's 'Great Terminator-Technology' Hoax

- Ronald J. Herring, Journal Critical Asian Studies, Vol. 38, no. 4, Dec.2006, pages 467 - 493 (Professor, Cornell University)

Though promoted by the Government of India, and endorsed by dominant international organizations concerned with agriculture, biotechnology has produced fierce resistance and divisions. "Operation Cremate Monsanto" combined nationalist appeals, opposition to multinational capital, and rejection of genetic engineering in one integrated critique. The movement failed; Monsanto's technology spread rapidly and widely in India. The movement illustrated a larger problematic of understanding interests under conditions of rapid and complex technological change.

Science continually presents new challenges to the way interests are understood by citizens and political classes that control states; the sea change in redefinitions of interests - of both individuals and states - introduced by, for example, the atmospheric science of ozone holes and climate change is archetypal, as are the internationally contentious battles in trade and property of "genetically modified organisms." Interests in biotechnology are screened by science, understandings of which are unevenly distributed. Asymmetries of knowledge and skill repertory necessary for participation in global networks of contestation create new class positions within India, and corresponding contradictions in social movements.

Cultural capital matters fundamentally in differentiating classes and class interests; authenticity rents become available to some class positions but not others. Divisions matter because movements seeking environmental integrity and social justice may ultimately be weakened by egregious inaccuracies of framing, however effective the short-terms gains in dramaturgy may be.

Download full paper at http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Terminator/Herring-Terminator-2006.pdf


Grow GM Crops or Face Strife: Anderson

- Mark Metherell, Sydney Morning Herald, Feb. 28, 2007 http://www.smh.com.au

Australia is falling behind in the rapid world growth of more productive biotech crops, such as drought-tolerant and pest resistant strains, the former deputy prime minister says. "Food versus fuel" fights over the diversion of crops to biofuels threaten to hit Australia unless this country dramatically upgrades crop development, John Anderson believes.

The Nationals MP has called for a rethink on the states' bans against genetically-modified food crops. "If we are going to avoid an ugly stand-off over food versus fuel, we are going to have to spend a lot more on plant research … because it is very likely that a large part of the answer on renewable energy will be biofuels," Mr Anderson told the Herald.

The huge potential for genetically modified crops, including the use of non-grain crops and residues to supplement oil as a fuel, was being lost to Australia because of irrational fears. "Many of the current bans have been driven by concern about the unknown and fears of the so-called 'Frankenstein food' factor but the reality is more and more GM crops are being grown around the world."

Australia has about 200,000 hectares planted in biotech crops, most of it modified cotton, compared with the estimated total world area of more than 100 million hectares, half of it in the United States. The local distaste for modified foods meant Australia was "a First World country growing Third World crops", said another Government MP, Mal Washer.

Vaccines in bananas, modified peanuts free of a potentially lethal allergen, vitamin A in rice and grains containing therapeutic Omega 3 fish oil were all possible, but out of bounds in Australia, Dr Washer said. Australians would not eat modified food yet happily injected themselves with genetically modified medicines, such as insulin, he said.

Dr Washer, who raised the issue at the Coalition party room meeting yesterday, told the Herald later that the federal and state governments needed to counter irrational barriers to modified food. State governments, including NSW, have imposed moratoriums on genetically modified crops, because of crop contamination and export marketing concerns, despite an approval granted by the federal Office of the Gene Technology Regulator in 2003 for commercial cultivation of a modified strain of herbicide-tolerant canola.

Genetically modified foods can be sold in Australia provided they are labelled as such, but only a "tiny number" of modified products, mostly imported, are sold, according to the regulatory agency Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.

The CSIRO says no evidence has been found anywhere of risks from eating genetically modified foods. "If food prices are to remain low in real terms, advantage must be taken of advances in all stages of the food production chain, including GM plants and animals," the CSIRO said.

Mr Anderson said a taste of the explosive potential of the food versus fuel conflict was already being experienced elsewhere. Mexicans had rioted over tortilla prices driven up by demand for corn to produce biofuel. Unrest had broken out in South Africa over competition for sorghum, used to make beer and its growing role as a biofuel.

Mr Anderson, who retires from politics at this year's federal election, says his priority is to campaign for Australia to expand its effort on the development of new generation food and fuel plants. "This will turn into a race between food and fuel," he said, unless Australia grappled with the latest technology in food and biofuel production that would be of crucial significance to drought-hit Australia.

On a visit to the US, he said he saw drought-tolerant crops which produced more grain and biomass with less water than required by conventional crops.


'Taverne's Case Is, Essentially, Indisputable'

- Christopher Hirst, The Independent (UK), Feb. 23, 2007 http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk

Review of "The March of Unreason, by Dick Taverne (OXFORD £9.99 (310pp))"

Taverne's robustly argued book is aimed at those of us who are benignly disposed to organic food and alternative medicine without ever giving them much thought. The "New Fundamentalism", as Taverne terms it, is irrational and anti-scientific. He insists homoeopathy is "like the miracle of turning water into wine without divine intervention".

For all its wholesome aims, the organic movement "makes it less likely that poorer families will improve their diets". Similarly, "opposition to GM crops is not rational but political, dogmatic and ideological." Taverne's case is, essentially, indisputable


Europe Impedes Improvement of Crops in the Developing World

- Innovations Report Feb. 26, 2007 http://www.innovations-report.com

On Tuesday the 20 February 2007, Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for the Environment announced at a public discussion organised by Friends of Europe, that she was concerned if Europe has a negative effect on countries in the developing world by imposing its standards on the rest of the world with regard to regulation on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).

As a follow-up to this event, plant researchers from the developing world met in Brussels at a meeting organised by European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLES). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how European regulation on GM foods influence legislators in the developing world to call for unnecessary tough testing.

Thousands of people die every day in the developing world due to hunger or the use of harmful pesticides in agriculture. No death or any illness throughout the world has ever been connected to the use of GMO. The zero tolerance of GM foods unauthorised in Europe and the labelling of GM foods imported to Europe have a huge influence on legislators and research funding organisations in the developing countries. Even countries which have no export of foods to Europe are afraid of approving or supporting the development of GM foods because of European policy.

Former head of unit at the European Commission, DG Research and head of the unit of biotechnology at the OECD Mark F. Cantley said: "The global influence of the European policy on GMO has a massive economic and political impact on our trading partners. The economic and political disincentives Europe imposes to the use of more modern and precise technologies and more environmentally friendly agricultural production makes it impossible for the developing world to develop new improved crops. We have painted ourselves into a corner in Europe, from which we shall not easily escape, and from which we have a malign influence on poor countries all over the world".

Professor Jennifer Thomson from University of Cape Town says: "Genetically modified maize resistant to the devastating African endemic maize streak virus is in the pipeline for field trials. The problems of regulation are therefore of immediate importance. We are concerned about what we consider the over-regulation prevalent in Europe and question whether this may prevent, or severely delay, the approval of these plants that are desperately needed by poor Africans, many of whom eat maize three times a day."

Professor Zen Zhangliang President of Beijings Agricultural University said: "In China we have a long tradition for plant development. Genetic engineering is a better and more precise technology. We have already many Chinese GM products on the market and we will invest massively in agricultural biotechnology in the coming years. It does not seem rational to me that the Europeans want to slow down their agricultural development with superfluous and heavy regulations."

Professor Marc van Montagu, Department of Molecular Genetics, Ghent University and president of European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB) concluded at the meeting with following comment: "A sustainable agriculture and a less-polluting industry badly need the GM-technology and the transgenic plants developed, worldwide, over the last ten years. Exactly in the same period, well-intentioned regulators in the EU set up an unnecessary and very costly application of the regulatory system. No small or medium enterprise, public research centre, charity or foundation can afford to open a file for approval through the established system. It is a crying injustice towards the developing world, towards nearly 85% of the world population.


Growth Plays: Biotech Goes to the Garden

- Bart Ziegler, Dow Jones, Feb 24, 2007

'Genetically modified ornamental plants are in the works; The challenge now: avoiding the 'Frankenflowers' label'

Petunias that survive frost. Impatiens that shrug off drought. Disease-free geraniums. They sound like dream plants for gardeners.

But they also present a major challenge for the gardening industry. That's because these "miracle" flowers -- now in the works, thanks to a new alliance between a German plant company and a California start-up -- are the product of genetic engineering. Ornamental plants that have had their DNA juggled could spark the same backlash created by genetically altered food crops such as corn and soybeans.

The broader debate over genetic engineering touches on science, politics and deeply held beliefs. And the last thing the horticulture business needs is accusations that it is selling "Frankenflowers." Sales by the U.S. garden industry have been flat to down the past few years, despite all those new houses with unlandscaped lawns. Some in the business blame young homeowners' lack of time, but others believe some would-be gardeners give up too soon, when their first attempts fail. Genetically engineered plants that are easier to grow could keep those novices in the game.

I was lucky when I began gardening eight years ago because, blessed by good soil and adequate rain, I had few plant failures. But genetically enhanced plants could make a difference -- provided they are shown to have no detrimental side-effects -- for friends who have been turned off to gardening for life by one bad season.

So far about the only genetically engineered ornamental plants on the market are carnations that have been injected with a petunia gene to give them purplish-blue hues not seen in nature. But these are sold only as cut flowers. Several obstacles have made it tough to genetically enhance flowers and shrubs. Chief among them is the high cost of the technology and the requirement to license the patents behind the genetic techniques. Since the ornamental-plant business is a fraction of the size of the agricultural one, these costs can't be spread over enough seeds or young plants to make the proposition viable.

One promising start-up that tried to create new flower varieties with genetic engineering, NovaFlora of Philadelphia, gave up a few years ago. "The biggest roadblock we ran into was the barriers to intellectual property," says Michael Dobres, NovaFlora's chief executive. Now, it has turned to a technique called mutagenesis, in which it scrambles the genes that naturally occur in plants to create new varieties.

The new German-U.S. alliance hopes to overcome the roadblocks by linking Selecta Klemm, which sells starter plants to wholesale growers in the U.S. and elsewhere, with Mendel Biotechnology of California, which holds the rights to key genetic-engineering techniques. Mendel shares patents and technology with Monsanto, a giant in the world of genetically engineered crop plants.

Selecta began preliminary work with Mendel more than four years ago, says Christian Klemm, Selecta's chief financial officer. On Jan. 1, the two companies launched Ornamental Bioscience, which Mr. Klemm runs from its Stuttgart, Germany, headquarters.

He says the joint venture has three advantages over earlier ones. One is its access to key patents and technology through Mendel and Monsanto. The second is its work with Florigene, the Australian company that developed the purplish-blue carnation. Third is its strategy: It aims to produce clear, functional benefits for commercial growers and consumers, such as tougher, more reliable plants, not just novel flower colors or shapes.

Ornamental Bioscience aims to switch on existing genes that are dormant -- such as those that could make plants more resistant to cold or drought -- rather than deploy the more controversial techniques used in genetically engineered food crops. The company has turned on certain genes in petunias and poinsettias and is growing the plants in greenhouses to determine if the transformed plants are, in fact, more tolerant of frost, cold air or drought. "We have no reason to believe it doesn't work," Mr. Klemm says.

Of course, gardeners, farmers and scientists have been manipulating the genes in plants for hundreds of years by crossbreeding varieties for desirable traits, usually by transferring pollen from one plant to another. In some ways, what Ornamental Bioscience is doing is a continuation of that trend.

Still, Ornamental Bioscience faces a long road to get such plants on the market. It must obtain regulatory approvals and then persuade plant growers and consumers that the new varieties are worth 25% to 50% more, Mr. Klemm estimates. These hurdles have turned off other big players in the garden world, including Ball Seed, the largest U.S. company in the business. "There are just better ways we could spend our research dollars," says a Ball spokeswoman.

Then there are the groups opposed to genetic engineering. It seems to me their concerns may be misplaced here. Since most people don't eat flowers, food safety isn't an issue. And since ornamental plants are raised in much smaller quantities than corn or soybeans, often inside greenhouses, it's much less likely that they would "escape" into the wild. But there's one legitimate worry: These new plants could crowd out naturally occurring varieties. We need to make sure the plant industry doesn't come up with another kudzu -- that "miracle" plant that now smothers much of the South.

"My gut instinct would be that, assuming there isn't some highly public campaign [against genetic manipulation], most people would not be terribly upset about the idea of a frost-resistant petunia," says Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, which calls itself a neutral source of information on genetically modified plants. And that could turn gardening into a more sure-fire pursuit.

Here are three examples of scientists' efforts to modify the genetic makeup of common flowers.

UNUSUAL COLORS Florigene inserted a gene from a blue petunia to create bluish-purple carnations, now available as cut flowers. The Australian company is using a similar technique to create a blue rose.

HARDINESS Ornamental Bioscience of Germany aims to make petunias that aren't killed by frost, poinsettias that are tolerant of cold air and impatiens that can survive drought, all by "turning on" genes for traits that are latent in the plants.

NEW LOOKS NovaFlora of Philadelphia is devising new roses by scrambling their genes, a process called mutagenesis. It has created a multipetaled version of the popular Knock Out rose, which is several years from the market.


GM Foods Pose No Danger to Health

- Kamloops This Week, Feb 23 2007, http://www.kamloopsthisweek.com

Editor: Re: The visit last week to Kamloops by Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser ('Farmer continues to fight Terminator,' Feb. 18): Readers of KTW might like to know the other side to the Schmeiser vs. Monsanto story.

If one reads the court records, it becomes clear that Schmeiser bought new seed every few years. Therefore, his claim to be a seed saver comes into question. The court transcripts make it clear he "knew or ought to have known" when he saved seed from canola plants that did not die after he sprayed the plants with Roundup.

He then sent the saved seeds away to be processed for planting. The next spring, Schmeiser planted over 1,000 acres in seven fields with the saved seeds.

This is why all three levels of the Canadian court system found him guilty. Further, his suggestions there are health risks associated with genetically modified (GM) crops is false.

Health authorities around the world state GM crops and food are as safe or safer than food from conventionally bred plants. It does not matter how many time Schmeiser makes such health claims about GM crops and food - they are not true.

There has not been a single documented case of harm linked to food containing ingredients GM anywhere in the world.

- Robert Wager, Malaspina, University College, Nanaimo


Biofuels – Is There A Role for GM?

- Derek Burke (Norwich, UK), Biologist, Vol. 54 No 1, Feb. 2007

We will all agree that we face enormous challenges in dealing with the problems raised by climate change: scientific, economic and political. Nearly all of us will agree that a number of approaches are needed if we are to stabilise our world and limit the damage.

One of these is the use of biofuels, for example by adding ethanol, produced by fermentation of plant biomass, to petrol for use in motor transport. A recent issue of Nature contained a series of articles under the title "Biofuelling the future" which reviewed the whole area. There is also a recent report from the European Union Committee of the House of Lords concerning "The EU Strategy on Biofuels: from field to fuel".

Many questions are still being debated. Some ask, since there is no possibility of replacing much of Britain's fuel needs by biofuels made from crops, either grown locally or imported, why even start? How much land would be needed to have a significant effect? Does making ethanol from plant food products mean that needy people will go hungry? However, biofuels will almost certainly have a role in contributing to future fuel supplies (either to lower atmospheric CO2 levels or to reduce our dependence on oil from unstable or unfriendly parts of the world). So what should we be doing in Britain?

It is clear that cultivation of biofuels should not replace food production; for there are many reasons why we must maintain indigenous food production. It is not a question of turning large amounts of Britain's rich agricultural land over to biofuels. But do biofuels have a place? Of course, like everything else in our market economy, the amount that will be grown will depend on market signals (governments often introduce inducements which distort such signals but this rarely produces a stable solution). Biofuels will ultimately have to stand on their own two feet, traded globally like other fuels. I believe that GM crops too can make a contribution here, primarily because of their higher yield per hectare, in a situation where the amount of land available for cultivation will be a limiting factor.

One of the problems for biofuels is that crop-based fuels tend to be uncompetitive (though they are becoming less so with every fuel price rise). Therefore, any agricultural technology that is yield-enhancing and/or cost-reducing, and which has the potential to make crops like oilseed rape and sugar beet more competitive as a source of biofuel, should be considered. As an EU member, the UK also has obligations on its renewable energy share over the next few years, and biofuels clearly represent a possible way of delivering these.

Then too, EU support levels for sugar have come down significantly and may fall a little further over the next few years. Finally, as a result of trade agreements, imports of sugar from developing countries may begin to enter the EU in significant volumes (Bolger, 2006). This will reduce the attractiveness of growing sugar beet in the UK. In order to remain competitive in this new market, sugar producers will need to draw on all available cost-reducing and productivity-enhancing technologies, and it will be the cheapest delivered price and global supply/demand balances which will drive the business.

Apart from the economic and political problems that lie ahead for biofuels, there are a number of scientific hurdles to overcome, such as increasing the productivity per acre and increasing the biofuel transformation efficiency, thereby reducing the cost of production and furthering sustainable development. Can biotechnology, including genetic modification, play any useful role here?

It would clearly be an advantage if GM crops could help to reduce cost and increase the competitiveness of UK agriculture, though it is not clear at the moment what GM traits could help to do this apart from providing yield increases. Some quality traits might contribute, but the market might not be willing to pay for them. There is also another factor to consider: sugar processors are becoming concerned about the reduced levels of raw material supplies relative to processing capacity, so that processing capacity may well lie idle. If public opinion – and food industry practice – permit change to take place, processors may begin to favour costreducing technologies based on genetic modification, for example through the use of GM herbicide-tolerant sugar beet.

If the development of GM biofuels rekindles interest in plant biology and plant genetics, so much the better. Though badly wounded, plant science is not yet dead in Britain, and could be revived if given a measure of encouragement and protection from ideological vandalism and attack. In time, morale would improve and commercial companies might even bring back some of their research laboratories. There are several key issues. First, are there suitable genetically modified crops which might be grown in the UK? Two crops merit careful consideration: oilseed rape and sugar beet.

Consumer concerns Finally, in view of all the concern expressed by the public about GM crops over the last few years we have to ask whether such concerns make it impossible to consider the use of GM crops for biofuel development. What is the current position over consumer concerns?

In addition to the latest Eurobarometer poll (European Commission, 2006) there is a new review of consumer opinions over the last 10 years: "GM foods: What Europeans Really Think" (Hutton, 2006). Its conclusions are rather different from the concerns which are commonly expressed, particularly by the environmental NGOs, and are worth briefly summarising:

1. People generally answer attitude questions in their role as citizens rather than as consumers. When they think and act like consumers, GM is a relatively insignificant consideration and negative attitudes can often be passed over in favour of lower prices or other consumer benefits. Fears about potential GM dangers are not well founded on any experience or evidence that such dangers are real.

2. The public generally admit that they do not feel well enough informed about GM foods and there appears to be widespread misunderstanding of what genetic modification actually means.

3. Real concerns are not high when it comes to purchase decisions and any actual behaviour appears not to be influenced about GM foods safety.

4. Opposition to GM foods in the UK has been declining due to lack of scientific evidence of any actual damage, in sharp contrast to other food-related issues (such as sugar and fat content and its links to obesity).

5. On the basis of the research evidence, phrases like "overwhelming opposition" and "massive consumer rejection", which have been used in the media and by some politicians in relation to public attitudes to GM foods, present a misleading impression of what the research is actually saying, especially in the UK e.g. FSA annual surveys and British Social Attitudes annual survey.

Despite these conclusions, there is still resistance, based partly on resistance to the dominance of our food chain by North American companies, partly on "unknown unknowns" over possible risks to health and the environment, and partly on the absence of any real need. Here, I suggest, is a case where the environmental issues can go the other way, where there are little of no health risks, and where new technology could play a role in mitigating the effects of global warming.

It is generally agreed that a number of approaches are needed to counter the effects of global warming, that biofuel development is one of these, and that scientific and technical advances are needed to make such an approach viable. Other reviews have discussed problems and opportunities, but none has considered the advantages of using GM crops such as GM rape and GM sugar beet as sources of biofuels. Any environmental problems could be contained and there are no human health issues. But could such use of genetic modification escape the stigma that it has so inappropriately (in my view) collected?Is the British public now ready to consider the benefits of such an approach? I hope so, and then the deciding factor the will be the outcome of an economic cost/benefit analysis.


USDA Reports On Biotech In Brazil

- Crop Biotech Update, isaaa.org

Agricultural biotechnology in Brazil continues to be a "difficult issue" as government agencies, and consumer and environmental groups have yet to agree on how to approach commercial applications for biotech products. Differences between these groups have kept CTNBio, the National Commission of Biosafety, from approving new biotech events. This is the scenario forwarded by a report from the United States Department of Agriculture.

The report says that despite the approval and implementation of Brazil's biosafety law, the establishment of a National Development Policy Plan for Biotechnology, and a National Committee on Biotechnology, Brazil is still unclear about how to move forward as the government has declined to cite funding sources for the plan. It has also been unable to address legal problems faced by CTNBio.

See the full report at


Agricultural Projections To 2016

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently published a report, “USDA Agricultural Projections to 2016” which cover agricultural commodities, agricultural trade, and aggregate indicators of the sector, such as farm income and food prices. The projections are a conditional scenario based on specific assumptions regarding the macroeconomy, agricultural and trade policies, the weather, and international developments.

In the United States increases in corn-based ethanol production will provide a major impetus for a strong net farm income projection. Increased demand for grain used to produce ethanol in the United States will raise the price of corn relative to prices for other grains and soybeans. In response, increased corn production and exports are assumed for countries such as Argentina, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Republic of South Africa, and Brazil. In addition, vegetable oil prices rise relative to prices for oilseeds and protein meals because of expanding biodiesel production in a number of countries.

Cotton consumption and textile production are projected to increase in countries where labor and other costs are low, such as China, India, and Pakistan. Although China’s cotton imports are expected to grow more slowly than the rapid gains since 2001, these increases account for the gains in global cotton trade in the projections. Improved Indian cotton crop yields, in part due to the adoption of Bt cotton, have raised India’s output in recent years. Rapid yield growth is projected to continue with the increase in cotton output being used for domestic textile production rather than for export.

Readers can access the full report at [ http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/oce071/oce20071.pdf


Two New UNEP-GEF Biosafety Publications

The UNEP-GEF Biosafety Unit has just released two new publications on the web. The first, entitled "A comparative analysis of experiences and lessons from the UNEP-GEF biosafety projects", is a study looking at the 124 countries that participated in the UNEP-GEF Project for Development of National Biosafety Frameworks (NBF), which began in June 2001, as well as the 8 countries that participated in the UNEP-GEF demonstration projects for the implementation of the NBFs.

These projects were implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) under the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Initial Strategy for assisting countries to prepare for entry into force of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The 49-page study focuses on a comparative analysis of their experiences in order to draw out lessons and best practices applicable to other global initiatives for implementation of multilateral environmental agreements. See http://www.unep.ch/biosafety/development/devdocuments/UNEPGEFBiosafety_comp_analysisDec2006.pdf (1.1 MB).

The second publication is a 4-page brief entitled "Building biosafety capacity: The role of UNEP and the Biosafety Unit". See
http://www.unep.ch/biosafety/development/devdocuments/UNEPGEFBiosafety_BrochureDec2006.pdf or contact biosafety@unep.ch for more information about either publication.


Evaluation of Risk Assessment Dossiers for the Deliberate Release of Genetically Modified Crops

- October 8-122007, Ca' Tron di Roncade, Italy.

A practical course organised by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in collaboration with the Istituto Agronomico per l'Oltremare. Closing date for applications is 27 April 2007. See http://www.icgeb.org/MEETINGS/CRS07/BSF2_8_12_October.pdf or contact courses@icgeb.org for more information.


Plant Breeding and Biotechnology - Societal Context and the Future of Agriculture

- Author: Denis Murphy, University of Glamorgan, UK; Paperback, ISBN-13: 9780521530880

This comprehensive survey of modern plant breeding traces its history from the earliest experiments at the dawn of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century to the present day and the existence of high tech agribusiness. Murphy tells the story from the perspective of a scientist working in this field, offering a rationale and evidence-based insight into its development.

Crop improvement is examined from both a scientific and socio-economic perspective and the ways in which these factors interact and impact on agricultural development are discussed, including debates on genetically-modified food. Murphy highlights concerns over the future of plant breeding, as well as potential options to enable us to meet the challenges of feeding the world in the 21st century. This thoroughly interdisciplinary and balanced account serves as an essential resource for everyone involved with plant breeding research, policy and funding, as well as those wishing to engage with current debates.

A free-flowing main text makes the book easily accessible to all readers, while an extensive series of endnotes and references allow the reader to go deeper into specific topics of interest to them. Truly interdisciplinary, covering topics as diverse as agriculture, breeding, economics, biotechnology, plant science, GM issues, politics, corporate affairs and issues of globalisation. Written by a plant biotechnologist, who has spent three decades working in this area and is highly involved with the ongoing debate on genetically modified food and crops, locally and internationally,


Whole Foods v. Whole Earth

- John Tierney, NY Times, February 26, 2007, 9:52 pm

Who’s afraid of frankenfood? European politicians, who have successfully fought to keep out genetically modified foods. Companies like Whole Foods, which has set a goal of keeping genetically engineered ingredients out of its products. Environmentalists around the world, who have been warning of terrible consequences from monkeying with nature.

But not Stewart Brand, as I explain in my "Findings" column. The founder of the Whole Earth Catalog sees genetic engineering as a chance to save the environment. There wasn’t space in the column to go into depth on the issue, but the Lab has all the room you want to debate it. To get you started, here’s an excerpt of "Environmental Heresies," Mr. Brand’s article in Technology Review:

Read the article and some interesting readers' responses at http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/02/26/whole-foods-v-whole-earth/