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March 2, 2007


EU - the Epicenter of GM Opposition; Rice With High Antioxidants; Seeds for the Future; Danforth Center Gets $25 Million


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - March 2, 2007

* Farmers' Fear, Food Future Genetically Modified
* Flavonoid-rich GM Rice to Boost Antioxidant Levels?
* Seeds for the Future: The Impact of GM Crops on the Environment
* Zambia Tables Biosafety Bill
* $25 Million Grant For Renewable Fuels At Danforth Center
* Tainted Spinach Traced to Organic Farm

Farmers' Fear, Food Future Genetically Modified

- Xiong Lei, China Daily, March 1, 2007 http://www.chinadaily.com.cn

The European Union (EU) is still debating whether it should embrace genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But a group of European life scientists are determined to welcome China's GM rice.

At a one-day food meeting, sponsored by the European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLELS) in Brussels last week, the European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB) task group sent out a clear message that backed biotechnologists in China and other countries working on transgenic agriculture technology to ensure food security across the world.

Yet the controversy over GMOs, particularly the "over-strict regulatory framework" on GM food as Mark Cantley of Britain put it "has been disastrous for the progress of agricultural biotechnology" not only in Europe, but also elsewhere.

"It has created difficulties for all the countries seeking to trade with the EU," said Cantley, former adviser to the Directorate for Life Sciences (Biotechnology, Agriculture and Food) under the Research Directorate-General of the European Commission. Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, Jennifer Thompson (sic) echoed his concern. She and her colleagues have come up with several varieties of transgenic corn that show encouraging traits of resisting the virus streak endemic in Africa and could survive even during drought. But they couldn't get a commercial license for the plant despite its popularity among farmers involved in the field trials.

"It's all because of EU's strict rules against GM food, for much of our corn is exported to Europe," Thompson said. The positive results of safety tests could not convince the local government, she said, because the officials are prone to thinking that "if Europe doesn't want it, there must be something wrong with it".

President of the China Agricultural University Chen Zhangliang informed the meeting that similar misgivings had withheld the commercialization of GM rice on the Chinese mainland.This despite the Ministry of Agriculture's biosafety committee giving its nod in November 2004 to the production of a GM rice strain that resists leaf blight. Leaf blight is a fungus that attacks rice, beans, cotton, tomato, pepper, plantain, and many other secondary host crops. Perhaps the worse blight attack was on potatoes, Ireland's staple food, in 1845-46.

Chen said: "We're still awaiting the final approval of a commission, comprising (representatives of) seven ministries of the central government Our ministers are hesitating primarily because of EU's objection to GM plants." Speaking on EU's stance on GMOs at a public debate before the EAGLES meeting, Danish environment minister Connie Hedegaard said that rules were imposed only for labeling, shipment and tracing of GM food.

Biologists, however, see the regulations as an obstacle against the spread of transgenic agriculture, particularly hurting small-scale farmers. "The regulations often prolong the process of approval that only multinationals can afford," said David McConnell, of Trinity College's Smurfit Institute of Genetics, University of Dublin, Ireland.

This contradicts the GMO opponents' allegation that multinationals want to use GM plants to control the world food chain, and the efforts to keep an area GM-free are to prevent their monopoly.

Most biotechnologists back GMOs, with the opposition coming mainly from environmental scientists and organizations, McConnell said. He recalled with bitterness the failure of a GM potato trial in his country: On May 9, 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency of Ireland authorized three-year field trials of a potato strain, genetically engineered to be resistant to blight that caused the 1845-46 famine.

"One million people died of starvation during the famine," he said. "Another 1 million emigrated to the US, Australia and elsewhere. As a result, our population has shrank from 8 million in 1844 to 6 million today." Ireland is perhaps the only country where the population has dropped in the past century and a half. "And blight threatens our potato production even today." The GM potato to go on trial would have transferred a blight-immune gene found in a wild potato strain of Mexico, he said. It's the only solution to the disease. "Yet environmentalists blocked the trial." According to the Irish Times, a nationwide opposition campaign involving more than 100 food and farming groups objected to the trial through the media and written statements. The result: the county council of Meath, where the trial was to be carried out, declared its area a GM-free zone.

Some 172 regions and provinces in the EU have declared themselves GM-free, according to People Earth Decade, a UK-based environmental organization. And McConnell, Cantley and other biotechnologists can't understand the phobia against GMOs. "The living world is one large gene-pool of functional and pseudogenes," said Marc Van Montagu, Emeritus Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Genetics at the University of Gent, Belgium. "This gene-pool is permanently evolving, which is the base of evolution." Well known as an inventor of Agrobacterium tumefaciens (a soil plant pathogenic bacterium) transformation technology, now used worldwide to produce genetically engineered plants, Van Montagu said: "Nature is one big gene laboratory", and a "gene revolution" will help bridge existing grain yield gaps, reduce environmental impact of chemicals and increase the nutritional elements in food.

Despite Van Montagu's confidence that "21st century plants will be GM plants," it seems he and his colleagues have to find a way to balance the environmentalists' influence both on the public and the politicians. As Thompson says, even if GM crops could help feed hungry people, "transgenic food plants cannot be the magic wand to feed the entire developing world", because efforts have to be made to improve infrastructure, educate people and, more importantly, "end wars and corruption" in some regions.

GMOs are neither black nor white, said Hedegaard at the public debate organized by the Friends of Europe before the EAGLES meeting. "We should move away from the more religious way of handling this debate on GMOs." GM crops are being grown on more than 1 million hectares around the world, she said, suggesting the EU look at how it could help ensure food security in the developing world and promote a more ethical GMO industry than the one run by US biotech giants.

And till that is done, the fear of losing livelihood and becoming dependent on multinationals for their food supply will keep haunting the small farmers across the world.


Flavonoid-rich GM Rice to Boost Antioxidant Levels?

-Stephen Daniells, Food Production Daily, March 2, 2007 http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/

Rice genetically modified to have high flavonoid content has a 22 per cent higher antioxidant activity than untransformed rice, says a joint German-Indian study. "The transgenic rice and its derived foods may serve as potential source of antioxidant compounds and this helpful in promoting human health," wrote lead author Ambavaram Reddy in the Elsevier journal Metabolic Engineering.

A number of genetically modified plants and crops are coming to light with enhanced nutritional content considered to offer human health benefits, including zeaxanthin to potato tubers, and the omega-3 fatty acid, eicosapentaeoic acid (EPA), to soybeans, brassica, and stearidonic acid (SDA) in canola crops.

However, no GM crops with potentially enhanced health benefits have been approved for human consumption. Sonsumer acceptance, particularly in Europe and most notably in the UK, continues to be one of the biggest challenges for these crops.

Researchers from Hamburg University and the University of Hyderabad used the "one gene-multiple metabolites" metabolic engineering concept to produce strains of rice that overexpress the anthocyanidin synthase (ANS) enzyme, obtained from a mutant strain of rice Nootripathu.

The ANS enzyme is part of the flavonoid biosynthetic pathway (the path for producing flavonoids in the plant) and catalyses the formation of coloured anthocyanidins from colourless leucoanthocyanidins, thereby serving as a visible marker of the degree of anthocyanidin production.

Interest in flavonoids is growing rapidly and a mounting body of science, including epidemiological, laboratory-based and randomised clinical trials, continues to report the cancer-fighting potential of a number of different flavonoids, such as isoflavones, anthocyanidins and flavonols.

Five different forms of transgenic rice were produced, and named 2T, 5T, 6T, 9T and 10TC. The latter (10TC) was found to contain the highest levels of anthocyanins (2.52 micrograms per milligram) and the flavonol quercetin (1.37 micrograms per milligram), and the lowest proanthocyanidins (0.09 micrograms per milligram), compared to the control rice (0.12, 0.55, and 0.4 micrograms per milligram, respectively).

This strain was also found to have the highest antioxidant activity with 98 per cent of radicals scavenged, compared to 77 per cent for the untransformed plant, measured using the DPPH (1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl) radical assay.

"Our study is a step towards the development of rice that is nutritionally superior to the traditional and high yielding varieties in terms of antioxidant potential," wrote the authors. "This strategy can be extended to different food crops to promote biofortification with natural products of nutritional value and to other agriculturally important crops for enhanced resistance against biotic and abiotic stresses," they concluded. Rice is the primary food for more than three billion people around the world.

Source: Metabolic Engineering Volume 9, Pages 95-111 "Novel transgenic rice overexpressing anthocyanidin synthase accumulates a mixture of flavonoids leading to an increased antioxidant potential" Authors: A.M. Reddy, V.S. Reddy, B.E. Scheffler, U. Wienand, A.R. Reddy


Seeds for the Future: The Impact of Genetically Modified Crops on the Environment

- New Book by Jennifer A. Thomson, $24.95, 2007, 208 pages, ISBN: 978-0-8014-7368-5


Plants have long been genetically modified through crossbreeding and other basic agricultural techniques to make crops more resilient, nutritious, and profitable. In recent decades, however, advances in genetic engineering--including the ability to blend genetic material from animals with that of plants--have allowed farmers to grow crops that resist insect pests, weeds, viruses, and drought; provide increased iron or beta carotene; deliver vaccines and antibodies; reduce common allergens and pollutants; and augment marketable qualities such as delayed ripening.

The complicated scientific, environmental, legal, cultural, and ethical issues surrounding these crops are being hotly debated all over the world. In Seeds for the Future, an internationally respected molecular geneticist and food researcher, Jennifer A. Thomson, describes how these crops are developed, distributed, and regulated.
About the Author: Jennifer A. Thomson is Professor of Microbiology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. She is on the boards of a number of biotechnology organizations including the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, based in Nairobi.
"The effect of agricultural biotechnology on developing countries is a major point of debate. Jennifer A. Thomson knows the science behind the technology and is well versed in the public discourse. Few books maintain the relative context of risks associated with genetically modified crops to the risks associated with conventional systems. Thomson very simply and effectively explodes the myth that conventional crop breeding is risk free." - Alan McHughen, University of California, Riverside, author of Pandora's Picnic Basket

"While based on solid empirical evidence from research and field experience, Seeds for the Future is organized and written in a way that makes it easily accessible and interesting to both experts and lay readers with an interest in the subject. It provides up-to-date information on a rapidly moving subject and contributes to a more enlightened debate on a topic of great importance." - Per Pinstrup-Andersen, H. E. Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition, and Public Policy, Cornell University, author of Seeds of Contention

Genetically modified (GM) crops and their impact on native species, the environment, and human health have been topics of international debate for many years. Thomson (microbiology, Univ. of Cape Town, South Africa) attempts to put the issue in perspective with a clear and objective scientific explanation of genetic engineering and its role in producing disease-, weed-, insect-, virus-, and drought-resistant soybean, maize, canola, cotton, beets, bananas, cassava, potatoes, and other crops providing higher yields and making healthy food available to millions of people.

Thomson is candid about the risks and the legal and trade issues, but she argues that these are minor concerns when compared with the benefits that GM crops have brought to the developing world. Her scholarly, important work, written in simple language, is well documented with references to scientific literature and practical examples. Although intended for an agricultural audience, it should be read by all who want to get beyond the debate to a lucid understanding of GM crops and their place in modern biotechnology.-Irwin Weintraub, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., NY, Library Journal Reviews


Zambia Tables Biosafety Bill

- Times of Zambia, March 01, 2007

Zambian Minister for Science, Technology and Vocational Training Brian Chituwo presented to the House the Bio-safety Bill whose objectives include the regulation of research, development, application, import, export, transit, and use of genetically modified products. "The Bill seeks to regulate the release or placing on the market of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) whether intended for use as a pharmaceutical, food, feed or processing, or a product of a GMO," Dr Chituwo said.

The Bill would ensure that any activity involving the use of any GMO or its product prevents any socio-economic impact or harm to human and animal health or any damage to the environment, non-GMO crops and biological diversity.

Dr Chituwo said the Bill would set and implement standards for the assessment, evaluation and management of any potential risk involving the use of any genetically modified organism or product of a GMO. "The bill will establish the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) and prescribe its powers and functions, provide for the establishment of the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) and provide for public participation, information and consultation in the field of bio-safety," he said.

The Bill also seeks to provide for a mechanism for liability and redress for any harm or damage caused to human and animal health, non-GMO crops, socio-economic conditions, biological diversity of the environment by any GMO or its product. Dr Chituwo said the Bill would also provide for the formation and registration of institutional bio-safety committees.


Enterprise Rent-A-Car Founder Gives $25 Million to Create New Institute For Renewable Fuels At Danforth Center

-- New Institute Demonstrates Corporate Commitment to Sustainability Through Innovative Research in Plant Science, Biofuels --

St. Louis, February 26, 2007 The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center today announced that Jack and Susan Taylor have given a $25 million gift to create the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels. The Institute is named for the company founded by Jack Taylor in 1957 and still owned by the Taylor family.

The Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute will expand the scientific expertise of the Danforth Center to speed up development of plant-based renewable biofuels. These fuels will decrease the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and reduce the current dependency on finite fossil fuels in future years.

"We are very grateful to Jack and Susan Taylor for their generous gift to expand the Danforth Center's basic research in plant science and address the growing need for biofuels," said Danforth Center Chairman Dr. William H. Danforth. "This gift establishes a truly unique partnership to address an important issue for future generations by utilizing the latest advances in plant science."

The $25 million gift will endow a team of researchers to significantly expand the Danforth Center's renewable bio-fuels research capabilities. It comes on the heels of Enterprise's pledge to underwrite the planting of 50 million trees in national forests over the next 50 years a commitment of $50 million in today's dollars.

"For 50 years, this company that my father built from the ground up has relied on the availability of vehicles and fuel," said Andrew C. Taylor, chairman and CEO of Enterprise Rent-A-Car. "Today, more than ever, it is essential that we pursue new energy sources that will sustain not only our business, but also the environment around us for future generations. The creation of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels sends a clear message that my family and our company are committed to help address this critical public need."

A distinguished scientific leader with strong credentials in renewable biofuels research will be recruited to direct the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute. The Danforth Center will also recruit 12 additional new scientists during the next three years who will join 18 current Danforth scientists to engage in research at the Institute.

"The issue of growing plants to provide a source of food while at the same time meeting our increasing demand for renewable energy is of greater concern each day," said Roger N. Beachy, president of the Danforth Center. "This commitment from Jack and Susan Taylor will advance our efforts to unlock novel scientific ideas that ultimately will lead to renewable biofuels that are plentiful and cost-effective."

This is the second sizable gift the Taylor family has made to the Danforth Center, and it completes the Center's Campaign for a Green Future, a $100 million campaign launched in 2004 with a $50 million matching grant from the Danforth Foundation. In September 2005, Jack and Susan Taylor gave $10 million to the Center, which was at that time the largest gift to the campaign. Today's $25 million gift will be matched by the Danforth Foundation, thus completing the initial round of fundraising for the endowment.


Tainted Spinach Traced to San Benito County (Organic - In Transition) Farm

- Anthony Ha, USAgNet, March 1, 2007

Health officials were cited as telling state lawmakers said at a legislative hearing Tuesday that fresh spinach that sparked a nationwide E. coli outbreak last fall was grown on a roughly 50-acre plot in San Benito County, which was in the second year of a three-year transition to organic production.

Dr. Kevin Reilly of the California Department of Health Services declined to release further details until they complete a full report on the outbreak, but said the report with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, would be released, "hopefully within the next few weeks."

Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, was cited as saying that federal health officials have repeatedly complained that California has failed to find a way to prevent outbreaks like the fatal, multistate one last October caused by California spinach contaminated with E. coli bacteria, adding, "Why are we waiting so long?"

Reilly defended the joint state-federal investigation that followed the outbreak, saying it traced the spinach back to the likely source in just a few weeks, which is record time for such an investigation.

But he acknowledged that investigators still have not discovered exactly how the bacteria, found in the intestines of cattle, wild boars and other animals in the area, got onto the spinach that sickened people. 5 includes portions of Santa Clara County. Maldonado is the son of immigrant farmworkers and is the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. As a young man Maldonado picked strawberries and now owns a 6,000-acre family farm.

The Department of Health Services supports safety measures from both the industry and the state, Roberts said. "Our stance is that it isn't a matter of picking and choosing," she said.

Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, told the Free Lance on Wednesday that she is working on legislation to authorize more funding for safety research. "It has become increasingly clear that there is an urgent need for research to help learn more about the causes of E. coli contamination and best practices to prevent future contamination," said Caballero, whose district includes San Benito County. "We need to act quickly to protect the safety of our food supply and the strength of our local economy."
Anthony Ha covers local government for the Free Lance.