Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - March 5, 2007
* Zambia Has a Chance to Reap from Biotech
* USDA Backs Production of Rice With Human Genes
* Human Rice
* Human Trials?
* Bad Science: Scare Story on GM Potatoes Translates Cysts Into Cancers
* Why did "Operation Cremate Monsanto" Fail?
* The Clandestine Ones of the GM
* Interview with Dr. Eduardo Trigo
* GM Sugarcane Produces Two-Fold Sugar Content
* Europeans Launch New Biotechnology Journa
* Taiwan: New Directions for Agriculture
* Bt Toxin Variability in GM Cotton
Zambia Has a Chance to Reap from Biotechnology
- James Wachai, March 5, 2007 http://www.gmoafrica.org/2007/03/zambia-has-chance-to-reap-from.html
I learnt this past week that the Zambian government has tabled in parliament a bill to regulate genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Its key objective is to regulate research, development, application, import, export, transit and use of genetically modified products.
This biosafety bill, according to Zambiass minister for Zambia's minister for science, technology and vocational training, Brian Chituwo, will ensure that "any activity involving the use of any GMOs or their products prevents any socio-economic impact or harm to human and animal health or any damage to the environment."
This bill is long overdue. In the past, Zambia has resorted to the law of the jungle to regulate GMOs from its territories. The most memorable event took place in 2002, when Zambian authorities turned away tones of food aid from the World Food Programme (WFP), on unfounded allegations that they were "contaminated" with GMOs. Hungry and desperate farmers did manage to break into WFP warehouses in search of food their government had condemned as unfit for human consumption.
With the tabling of this biosafety bill, it's expected that Zambia's attitude towards GMOs will change, for the better. We encourage Zambian parliamentarians to conduct an objective evaluation of biotechnology before they enact this bill. Their personal biases shouldn't obfuscate the potential benefits of GMOs. They must not listen to anti-biotechnology activists, who're currently angling to influence the debate.
It's imperative they consult widely with biotechnology researchers in Africa and elsewhere. For instance, a report released in 2002 by a panel of scientists and policy makers at the Southern African Development Community (SADC), in which Zambia is a member, determined that genetically modified foods pose no health to humans and the environment. Such a report is worth consideration in this debate.
I would also advise that before this bill is debated, lawmakers should consider embarking on a fact-finding tour of countries such as South Africa, China, Argentina, Canada and United States, that practice biotechnology in large-scale. They will be able to see first-hand, the applications of biotechnology in agriculture and pharmaceuticals.
This is a golden opportunity for Zambians to explore the potential benefits of biotechnology. An all-rounded biosafety law, aimed to encourage investments in biotechnology will guarantee Zambia prosperity.
USDA Backs Production of Rice With Human Genes
- Rick Weiss, Washington Post, March 2, 2007 http://www.washingtonpost.com
The Agriculture Department has given a preliminary green light for the first commercial production of a food crop engineered to contain human genes, reigniting fears that biomedically potent substances in high-tech plants could escape and turn up in other foods.
The plan, confirmed yesterday by the California biotechnology company leading the effort, calls for large-scale cultivation in Kansas of rice that produces human immune system proteins in its seeds.
The proteins are to be extracted for use as an anti-diarrhea medicine and might be added to health foods such as yogurt and granola bars.
"We can really help children with diarrhea get better faster. That is the idea," said Scott E. Deeter, president and chief executive of Sacramento-based Ventria Bioscience, emphasizing that a host of protections should keep the engineered plants and their seeds from escaping into surrounding fields.
But critics are assailing the effort, saying gene-altered plants inevitably migrate out of their home plots. In this case, they said, that could result in pharmacologically active proteins showing up in the food of unsuspecting consumers.
Although the proteins are not inherently dangerous, there would be little control over the doses people might get exposed to, and some might be allergic to the proteins, said Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science policy advocacy group.
"This is not a product that everyone would want to consume," Rissler said, adding that other companies grow such plants indoors or in vats. "It is unwise to produce drugs in plants outdoors."
Consumer advocacy groups, including Consumers Union and the Washington-based Center for Food Safety, have also opposed Ventria's plans. "We definitely have big concerns," said Joseph Mendelson, the center's legal director.
Ventria has developed three varieties of rice, each endowed with a different human gene that makes the plants produce one of three human proteins. Two of them -- lactoferrin and lysozyme -- are bacteria-fighting compounds found in breast milk and saliva.
A recent company-sponsored study done in Peru concluded that children with severe diarrhea recovered a day and a half faster if the salty fluids they were prescribed were spiked with the proteins.
Deeter said production in plants is far cheaper than other methods, which should help make the therapy affordable in the developing world, where severe diarrhea kills 2 million children each year. "Plants are phenomenal factories," Deeter said. "Our raw materials are the sun, soil and water."
The company is also talking to the Food and Drug Administration about putting the proteins into health foods. Its third variety of rice makes serum albumin, a blood protein used in medical therapies.
Until now, plants with human genes have been restricted to small test plots. In October, Ventria sought permission to grow its rice commercially on as many as 3,200 acres in Geary County, Kan., starting with 450 acres this spring.
A previous plan to grow the rice in southern Missouri was dropped when beermaker Anheuser-Busch -- the nation's largest rice buyer, which has expressed concern about the safety and consumer acceptance of gene-altered rice -- threatened to stop buying rice from the state if the deal went through.
Because no other rice is grown in Kansas and because rice can only grow in flooded areas, the risk of escape or cross-fertilization with other rice plants is nil there, Deeter said. The company will mill virtually all the seeds on site -- using dedicated equipment -- to minimize the risk of seeds getting mistakenly released or sold.
On Wednesday, the Agriculture Department published its draft environmental assessment, which concluded that the project posed no undue risks. The public can comment until March 30.
Also on Wednesday, the agency revealed that a type of rice seed in Arkansas had become contaminated with a different variety of genetically engineered rice, LL62, that was never released for marketing. The error was discovered in the course of an ongoing investigation into the widespread contamination of U.S. rice by yet another gene-altered variety, LL601, which has seriously disrupted rice exports.
Those problems, along with the previous discovery of unapproved, gene-altered StarLink corn in food and the accidental release of crops that had been engineered to make a vaccine for pig diarrhea, undermine the USDA's credibility, critics said.
"USDA's record is not good," Rissler said, pointing to several recent court judgments against the department and a December 2005 inspector general report that savaged the department for its poor oversight of biotechnology. "We don't think they can enforce even the inadequate system that is in place."
- Kevin Nelstead, March 4, 2007 http://nelstead.org/blog/2007/03/04/human-rice/
An article in Friday's Washington Post has an article with the headline USDA Backs Production of Rice With Human Genes.
The Agriculture Department has given a preliminary green light for the first commercial production of a food crop engineered to contain human genes, reigniting fears that biomedically potent substances in high-tech plants could escape and turn up in other foods.
The plan, confirmed yesterday by the California biotechnology company leading the effort, calls for large-scale cultivation in Kansas of rice that produces human immune system proteins in its seeds. The proteins are to be extracted for use as an anti-diarrhea medicine and might be added to health foods such as yogurt and granola bars.
This is not the first time human genes have been inserted into other species. For instance, by inserting the human gene for insulin into a bacteria, we can mass produce human insulin. On the surface, this seems like a very good thing. Before these genetically modified bacteria were created, human insulin was difficult and expensive to produce in sufficient quantities.
Gene Edward Veith argues that this is utilitarian thinking. Utilitarianism is the ethical system in which right and wrong is determined based on whether the outcome of an ethical decision is desirable or not. In utilitarianism, there is no outside determination of right or wrong, what we Christians would call ultimate truth. Veith instead turns to natural law, and concludes that this transfer of human DNA to a rice plant is unnatural, innately wrong, and downright evil. Here's part of Veith's argument, from his excellent Cranach blog:
> Well, going by "natural law," it doesn't matter if it is safe or not! Even if it is perfectly safe and cures diarrhea, human rice is UNNATURAL. The reason why most people rightly recoil from such a thought is that mingling species like this is intrinsically perverse. It is INNATELY wrong.
>"Unnatural" in this theological sense does not mean going against nature the way we do every day when we heat our houses in the cold or take medicine to fight off sickness. Those are legitimate examples of our human dominion over nature. No, blending the genetic code of humanity with the genetic code of a plant is a VIOLATION of nature. Such genetic engineering–and, I would add, reproductive engineering–is where Christians must draw the line. Perhaps on these issues they could make common cause with environmentalists.
> And, remember, it's not a question of whether such products are harmful or whether they will do a world of good. That is to think like a utilitarian, whose judgment about right or wrong rejects absolutes in favor of whether or not something is "useful." That thinking, which many Christians have bought into, goes squarely against Biblical truth.
I am convinced that utilitarianism is a terrible way to do ethics. This type of ethical thinking can to abortion, infanticide, genocide, sexual immorality, and anything else sinful human beings can justify as being beneficial for themselves or their society.
However, I find the "natural law" argument to be rather vague. We fly airplanes by application of the laws of nature. I'm communicating through the internet by application of the laws of nature. Likewise, we cut and splice DNA through an application of the laws of nature. DNA is not a magic substance; it is a chemical compound that obeys the laws of chemistry and physics. Where is the line between what is natural and what is unnatural?
Placing a human gene in a bacteria or rice plant doesn't mean that we have made that organism human, or even partly human. Humans have about 25,000 genes. Rice plants have even more. The genetically modified rice plant is still a rice plant, and produces rice seeds, not something else. Whether from a biological or theological perspective, an organism is much more than just the sum of its parts.
I've viewed the technology behind transgenic organisms (a.k.a. genetically modified organisms) as somewhat like nuclear technology. Nuclear technology, for instance, is neither good nor evil. Good uses of nuclear technology are abundant: radiation therapy for cancer, use of radioisotopes to understand natural systems, power supply for probes to Pluto. Human beings can use these technologies for good, and we can use them for great evil.
What are the ethical principles we need for technologies such as what some call "human rice?" The ethical issues here are not as clear cut, in my mind, as they are in controversies such as embryonic stem cell research or human cloning, where embryos are discarded or destroyed. Clearly evil things can be done with the transformation of living organisms with human genes (or the transformation of humans with non-human genes). How do we decide where the line is?
Grace and Peace
I have a passion for science, science education, and my savior Jesus Christ. I am serving with the Evangelical Free Church of America International Mission as the middle school and high school science teacher at Bucharest Christian Academy in Romania
"Sick People Used Like Laboratory Rats In GM Trials".
Independent on Sunday Claims Russian 1998 Studies Were ''Irresponsible and Totally Unethical"
"...After comparing them with 10 other patients fed conventional potatoes, the report concludes: "The genetically modified potato provided by Monsanto did not reveal toxic, mutagenic, immune modulating and allergic effects within the examined parameters of the present experiment."
"Activists have had 5 years since they first studied this data to conclude that as part of the Russian Ministry of Health's regulatory requirement, volunteers ate these cooked potatoes because traditionally, potatoes make up a staple part of the Russian diet – even though potatoes genetically improved to prevent Colorado beetle destroying the crop, had already been consumed, as safely as conventional or organic ones, in North America for a number of years...
Existing comprehensive food safety testing programmes have been in place globally for decades, with each test relative to the level of any risk. Monsanto exited from whole foods at the turn of the century, when it decided to concentrate instead on the four commodity crops of corn, soybeans, cotton and canola."
In view of the story in the Independent on Sunday, we would now like to add this:
NOTE TO EDITORS: In view of the above and every other scare story based on activist "research", in future Monsanto will not automatically respond to questions about "problems" that do not exist.. All of our products have been reviewed as safe, by regulatory specialists in the relevant disciplines who have full access to all the papers, and any additional research they require. Such was the case with this Russian regulatory approval. In the EU and many other countries, anyone can raise points of concern while the regulatory system is in process.
Eleven years of successful commercial cultivation of almost 1.5 billion acres of GM crops testifies to their safety. Last year alone, over 10 million farmers grew 250 million acres in 22 countries – which are home to over half the world's population.
If NGOs or others wish to question any country's regulatory process, their own investigations should first meet the same high standards rightly required by all independent regulatory authorities, rather than try to create scare stories which do not stand up to scrutiny."
See also this from The Guardian on Saturday 3rd March:
Bad Science: Scare Story on GM Potatoes Translates Cysts Into Cancers
- Ben Goldacre The Guardian (UK) March 3, 2007 http://www.guardian.co.uk
In 1998 researcher Arpad Pusztai claimed on television and in the media that GM potatoes stunted rats' growth and damaged their immune system. When the research was published, over a year later, it turned out to be significantly flawed. But during the two days after the GM "Frankenstein foods" story broke, on the back of an article in this newspaper, not one of the news articles, opinion pieces or editorials on the subject - in any British newspaper - was written by a science journalist, and because the work was unpublished, no one could comment on the science anyway. It was the turning point in public opinion against GM crops.
And now we have "Suppressed report shows cancer link to GM potatoes" by the deputy political editor of the Independent, about cancers and tumours in rats fed a genetically modified potato in Russia. According to the article the Russian report was released by Welsh anti-GM campaigners, after a battle to obtain it from the biotech industry.
I found the English commentary on the report at the GM Free Cymru website. It's 2,000 words long, by a Russian neuroscientist and green campaigner, the only English document on the project that seems to be available. Reading it, I'm not entirely convinced this study warrants the headline, or indeed any coverage at all. It doesn't mention the words "cancer" or "tumour" once.
I chase it up. The Russian activist tells me in an email that they did find "tumours". I ask for clarification, and it turns out the researchers actually reported "cysts in the kidney and in the liver". Cysts are not cancer, I suggest? They're not, she agrees.
The first line of the commentary says the studies "were not carried out according to the accepted protocols for the biomedical assessment of GM food and feed". In the trial rats were fed Russet Burbank potatoes, or GM Russet Burbank potatoes, or "standard chow".
They measured things like body weight and organ size: there is a huge amount of data missing, but you can see that there were massive differences between the "standard chow" rats, and the rats eating the Russet Burbank potatoes, whether those potatoes were GM or not. "Both types of Russet Burbank potatoes," the commentary concludes, "lead to changes in the blood and internal organs of laboratory rats (in the liver, the kidneys, the large gut, a change of the dimensions of heart and prostate gland and others)." They say: "And on the basis of this evidence they CANNOT be used in the nourishment of people." This will come as a great surprise to many farmers, since the Russet Burbank is one of the most commonly grown varieties of potato in the world, and often used for French fries.
I'm no friend of big biotech. I think GM has created a dangerous power shift in agriculture in favour of multinational corporations. So I'm cautious about GM foods, but they seem safe overall. If there's something new and frightening, then I want to see it published, in full, so we can all sit down and get frightened by it together, on the basis of well-conducted research that we can see and read. Before that, I'm not sure anyone's very well served by scare headlines about cancer.
Readers' comments below article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2025623,00.html
Why did "Operation Cremate Monsanto" Fail? Science and Class in India's Great Terminator-Technology Hoax
The downloadble document "Why did "Operation Cremate Monsanto" Fail? Science and Class in India's Great Terminator-Technology Hoax" -- by Prof. Ron Herring is now posted on our website http://www.agbioworld.org
The Clandestine Ones of the GMO
- Gaëlle Dupont, Le Monde (France) March 1, 2007. Machine translation from French below.
Farmers in the south-west of France and will cultivate corn GMO in 2007. To meet them, it was necessary to promise to conceal the name of their villages, to hide their patronyms, and to even modify their first names. One never knows… At the hour when there remain only two or three farmers per commune, it is enough to some indices to be located by the reapers of GMO. "One with the jitter, summarizes a farmer of the Tarn-and-Garonne, which cultivated corn genetically modified in 2006 and let know. I had not only mown pieces, but my life became very difficult. The sales turnover of my store of direct sale fell of half."
In the campaigns, leaflets circulated. "GMO danger, lie and handling, informed these texts. Asbestos, the all-nuclear power, the pesticides, the incinerators and maintaining the GMO, that are enough!" In the agricultural world, everyone included/understood the lesson. In 2007, the pro-GMO, of which one is unaware of for the moment the number, will live hidden.
Bertrand, around fifty, is installed very close to Pau. He is so much in anger against the reapers which he has of the evil to hold in place on his armchair. For him, to be opposed to the GMO, it is to go "against progress". On the piece where it sowed its first corn GMO last year, his/her father had established the first imported hybrid variety of the United States, in the years 1950. The president of the consulting general and the priest of the village had made displacement. "It was a pioneer, tells Bertrand. While passing from corn of the country to the hybrid, the outputs doubled and the exploitations thrived."
However, today, the single variety of GMO authorized in France, the corn LT, whose seed-bearer co-operatives and the general Association of the corn producers (AGPM) make promotion, presents a considerable attraction at the eyes of the farmers of South-west. For a few years, under the effect of the dryness, two devastating insects have proliferated. The sesamy attacks corn the stem by bottom, the bee moth by the top, but the result is the same one: the outputs suffer. The loss can reach 30%. Corn LT is genetically modified to produce a toxin which kills these insects. The line authorized with the culture in France since 1998, it MY 810, was developed by the Monsanto firm.
Only its co-operative knows that Bertrand cultivates LT. The farmer reads out his "contract of production". All the rules are consigned there. "One yields in the schedule of conditions, one does not make the things anyhow", explains it. Twelve conventional corn rows are planted at the edge of the field, to prevent the risks of dissemination of pollen.
Another exploitation, between Pau and Bayonne. Stephan, the son, and Jacques, the father, offer aperitif. Bruno, a neighbor, came. A plate of chips is posed on the table. "They come from Spain, therefore they is full with GMO, it is sure! ", Stephan laughs. More seriously, it questions: "Why in Spain, at half an hour of road from here, they make some as much as they want, and us there would not be the right?" Spain is the destination of corn LT cultivated in France, used to nourish the livestock.
Jacques makes visit the exploitation. The pesticides are held under key in the "room phyto". On a rack cans of products used against the insects are arranged. "Corn LT makes it possible to remove one or two insecticidal processing, explains the farmer. On the pieces which are not prone to these attacks, one does not make any. One will not buy more expensive seeds for the pleasure of making GMO. It enables us to ensure ourselves the best performance, and the medical state of the plant is better."
Some neighbors farmers came to put questions, last year, in October. There had been a storm. In the fields, all the conventional corn, weakened by the insects, were lying. The GMO, they, remained quite right. Will these neighbors launch out this year? All depends on the publicity which will be made to them. "If it is necessary to declare the pieces in town hall, that will slow down people, because there will be inevitably who will make the grimace", Bruno recognizes. All wish to declare these cultures with the prefecture or the ministry for agriculture in a confidential way.
This clandestinity, it is according to them the fault of only one man, Jose Bove, this "anarchist", "irresponsible", "even not farmer", who "baits himself on people who work", and "poisons the public" with the assistance of the media, "which make our rain and our good weather", explode they. To say how it is presented at the presidential election, then "which it should be in prison"! It is "because of him" if people are "being wary". And they are it, indeed. The farmers who sell their products on line, many in an area which encourages the production of quality, know it.
"People come at home to have natural products in their plate, they are against the GMO by principle", known as Jean, a stockbreeder of the Moors who markets crystallized, pies and foie gras. Is there in its village? "I do not know. Those which make some do not speak about it, for fear that falls down to them on the head", answers it. In addition to being a "large commercial error", the GMO are "the best means of hurting itself to see by all the vicinity", begins a biological farmer. "The subject is a little taboo, recognizes Jean, large exploiting Moors. In my family, they question all, it is normal considering din that it y A. But I do not include/understand this phobia of the GMO. There did it have deaths?"
The baby of Fabrice was born three months ago. This farmer of corn and kiwis "put questions, as a father". But "all is marked out", ensures it. Distances from separation with the close fields, the "zones of refuge" which will prevent the insects from developing resistances. "The corn is a hybrid plant, therefore it not of risk of dissemination of gene of resistance, which is not the case for the colza, which poses much more problems", adds the farmer there. Fabrice is not favorable to the GMO in block. "For me, this variety is a tool like another. I do not see the things from an ideological point of view, even if I am favorable to technical progress as from the moment when the risks are evaluated and controlled." In the case of the corn LT, Fabrice "is reassured" by the explanations given by its co-operative, because "the protein (insecticidal) is destroyed in the stomach of the mammals".
Ultimate argument of all these farmers: corn LT was authorized by the authorities, after expertise. "It is necessary to make confidence with the scientists", plead they in unison. The only Fabrice, youngest, understands that, after "contaminated blood and the insane cow, people live with this fear".
Interview with Dr. Eduardo Trigo
- European Federation of Biotechnology, March 1, 2007
Dr. Eduardo Trigo, Director of Grupo CEO, a consulting firm specializing in agricultural organization and technology policy issues, and Scientific Adviser to the International Directorate of the Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation of the Argentine Government
"Since the introduction of the new soybean technology, Argentina has more than doubled its grain and oilseed
Dr. Eduardo Trigo is author of the report "Ten Years of Genetically Modified Crops in Argentine Agriculture", a study that draws attention to the effect that GM crops have had in Argentine Agriculture during the past decade and how this new technology has transformed the country's agricultural sector and economy. The study has been financed by the Argentine Council for Information and Development of Biotechnology, a non-profit organization whose mission is to make available information on biotechnology, contributing to its understanding through education and promoting its development.
EFB: Dr. Trigo, what is the background to the report "Ten Years of Genetically Modified Crops in Argentine Agriculture" and why did you decide to carry it out? Where there specific issues you wanted to draw attention to or was this intended to highlight the overall experiences and lessons of 10 years of GM crops in Argentina?
Dr. Eduardo Trigo: "The report is intended to document the Argentinean experience with this type of technology. Back in 2002, we published a similar report looking into the initial five years since the introduction and we already found signs of a very powerful process that was starting to reshape the country's agriculture. We thought that a decade was a long enough period to look at established trends and we also wanted to highlight what were the drivers shaping this process, particularly as a basis for domestic policy-making. The "soybean era" is gradually reaching its ceiling - land for further expansion is becoming a limiting factor, etc. - and we think that for the country to continue to benefit from the new technologies there is the need for a renewed policy effort and we also wanted to provide support for that process."
EFB: What have been the most significant impacts in Argentine agriculture after the introduction of genetically modified crops 10 years ago?
ET: "Since the introduction of the new soybean technology, Argentina has more than doubled its grain and oilseed production and it has not only been soybeans; maize has also increased and so have other activities such as beef and dairy. In economic terms, that has amounted to about USD 20 billion in cumulative terms. That in itself is quite impressive but the indirect benefits on employment and other variables should also be taken into account."
EFB: What has been the overall economic impact on Argentina?
ET: "A conservative estimate, included in the paper, sets global impact at around USD 40 billion and the total number of jobs created at 1 million (over the ten year period under analysis). Regarding the importance of the latter figure, one has to consider that this increase took place during a period when the Argentine labour market went through one of its worst crises, with unemployment going from one digit figures to 23% (only this past month it has gone back to one digit again)."
EFB: What lessons are there for other countries, both developed and developing?
ET: "When tackling this particular issue, one has to be careful. Although Argentina is a developing country, its agricultural sector resembles more that of the developed countries, both in product mix as well as farm structure, and this has been a critical issue in the success of this story. The country foresaw the potential of the new technologies and undertook the necessary policy measures for gaining access to them, but it is also true that the technologies were a perfect fit for the country's agroecological conditions. Beyond that, one has to highlight a number of issues. First, that of readiness. By the time the first GM varieties became available, the regulatory system was already in place, and most importantly there existed a suitable germplasm base to which the new genes could be attached, otherwise diffusion would have been highly unlikely. This latter aspect is a key but frequently overlooked aspect in the success of biotechnological innovations. Biotechnological innovations are not a substitute for conventional breeding, on the contrary they go hand-in-hand as farmers would not buy seeds that are not well suited to their particular agro-ecological conditions and for that you need breeding programs and a seed industry that is able to deliver the innovations to the farms. Argentina had all that already in place and any other country that wants to benefit from these technologies - as well from non-GMO biotech, such as marker assisted selections, etc. - needs to have it as well."
A second point to make is that of the existence a thorough policy oversight along the process so that commercial releases are granted only after considering their possible market implications. In hindsight this may have been less important than thought at the time, but nevertheless it was an element that certainly contributed to building confidence in the technology with the country's stakeholders.
EFB: What can neighbouring countries learn from the Argentine example?
ET: "The lesson to be learned is: The sooner, the better. In the case of Brazil, it has become evident that due to delays in the decision-making process, farmers were not able to make use of the full potential of these technologies."
EFB: According to the study, Argentina ranks second place, behind the US, in total planted area with GM crops. What are the main reasons of this swift growth?
ET: "Essentially, the fact that the products available during this first cycle of the technology, as I already mentioned, were a perfect fit with the profile of our agricultural sector and the other set of conditions - policies, international markets, etc. - came together and made it feasible for the country to take full advantage of this situation."
EFB: How are farmers responding to this new technology and how is the government supporting it?
ET: "Farmers have been key players and the government provided the appropriate regulatory tools and was always supportive in terms of sending the signal that it was going do the right things in terms of assuring market access: "managing" commercial releases so as to not to put at risk access to our main export market - the EU - in the case of corn, siding with the USA in the WTO panel demand, etc."
EFB: Can you comment on the general public perception of biotechnology in Argentina and agricultural biotechnology and GM crops specifically?
ET:We do not have specific surveys to quote, but all available evidence suggests that for Argentine consumers this is a non-issue, and the farmers' behaviour in terms of adoption speaks for itself.
EFB: What message would you like to leave with members of the European Federation of Biotechnology as they read the report?
ET: "That their continued support for a more proactive Europe in the development of the new technologies is the right position and it will become even more important as biotechnology moves beyond GMOs. The Argentine story is a powerful one, showing quite clearly the potential of the new technologies; not only for improving the country's economic and social conditions, but also in terms of what they could contribute globally to produce the food the world will need in the coming years. It is also a safe technology and under the right conditions - as the ones existing in Argentina at the time, because of the interphase with no-till practices - a win-win situation in terms of its environmental and economic impacts.
However, this experience is not easy to extrapolate to other conditions, because of the particular nature of Argentine agriculture and also because of the fact that most of today's advances are present in crops suited for temperate environments, which are the basis of international commodities trade. There is very little done for the semi-tropical / tropical and small farmers' conditions, which accounts for the largest share of the world's poorer farmers. This is the next frontier and it could become the most relevant source of biotech's social and environmental benefits. But for that to occur, greater involvement of the research capacities of regions such as Europe will be needed and in this the EFB has a key role to play."
GM Sugarcane Produces Two-Fold Sugar Content
- Crop Biotech Update 2.3.07 http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate
Scientists from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia recently developed transgenic lines of sugarcane with increased total sugar content. The transgenic lines called 'Sugarbooster', produce the high-value sugar isomaltutose (IM) through the introduction of vacuole-targeted sucrose isomerase (SI) gene. The IM accumulates in storage tissues of sugarcane without any decrease in stored sucrose concentration. This resulted in up to two-fold increase in the total sugar yield in the harvested juice.
The transgenic sugarcane lines were found to be morphologically similar to non-transformed controls of the same sugarcane cultivar. However, delayed leaf senescence, increased photosynthetic activity, and enhanced sucrose transport were observed in the transgenics.
The abstract in the Plant Biotechnology Journal, with links to the complete paper for subscribers, can be accessed at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-7652.2006.00224.x
European Federation of Biotechnology and Elsevier announce launch of biotechnology journal
New journal to focus on original research, opinions and political understanding of biotechnology
Amsterdam, 5 February 2007 – Elsevier will launch Biotechnology, the Journal, as the official publication of the European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB) in September 2007. Biotechnology, the Journal will be a cross-disciplinary research and review journal aimed at an audience of academic and commercial bioscientists who are interested not only in science but also in its translation and use. The bi-monthly journal will be a platform for peer-reviewed articles and editorial comments related to biotechnology.
Editor-in-Chief of the journal will be John Hodgson who was Editor of Trends in Biotechnology and Senior Editor of Nature Biotechnology. Hodgson is one of the founders of the biotech consultancy firm, Critical I. According to Hodgson, Biotechnology, the Journal will have a global reach in content and subscription base. "It is important for the credibility of Biotechnology, the Journal that it publishes the best in science and reflects technical and political discussion in an entirely international context. The journal will be inclusive, reaching eastward and westward, seeking the excitement and opportunity in the sciences, technologies and businesses behind biotechnology."
The launch of this exciting journal is planned to coincide with the start of ECB13, The European Congress on Biotechnology, which will be held from September 16th – 19th in Barcelona, Spain. EFB Secretary General Christian Suojanen comments, "We are extremely pleased to be able to launch the journal with both John Hodgson and Elsevier as partners. Biotechnology, the Journal, will seek to reflect the EFB's recognition that the boundaries of science and commerce do not stop at the borders of the European Union, and that it is vital that Biotechnology, the Journal provides the global context that our members need. We firmly believe that the journal will be a success and thus aid in serving both our members and the life sciences community as a whole."
Taiwan: New Directions for Agriculture
- China Post March 3, 2007
Agriculture was the basis of Taiwan's economic miracle. Taiwan, before the arrival of the government of the Republic of China from mainland China, was a subsistence agricultural economy. The ROC government began the shift to more productive agriculture through its "Land to the Tiller" reform program. Now rural families had a stake in the land they farmed. At the time it was controversial, but it proved to be an enormous boon to farmers. Taiwan products from the agriculture sector became synonymous world-wide for excellent products at reasonable prices -- one only has to think of products such as canned mushrooms and the ubiquitous canned asparagus. This export-oriented cash crop sector allowed farmers to make more money with less effort.
The agricultural sector, however, seems to have lost its way. In the World Trade Organization Doha Round, which aims to kickstart trade liberalization, Taiwan has joined the G-10 group, which includes countries such as South Korea, Japan and Switzerland -- nations opposed to liberalization in traded in agricultural products.
Why is Taiwan doing this? Apparently, to protect one small sector of the agricultural economy, rice farmers. This is strange. Agriculture accounts for 1.7 percent of Taiwan's economy, yet employs 5 percent of the labor force -- clearly an inefficient use of resources.
This need not continue. If Taiwan applies the same policies to agriculture as is does to other sectors of the economy, the agricultural sector -- and the economy -- would benefit. In other words, apply the same high-tech and marketing knowhow to agriculture and everyone would benefit -- not least the farmers. Markets exist for Taiwan products, particularly such products as tropical fruits. Even rice would improve -- already farmers planting high-quality rice are earning many times the usual price for their products.
The WTO Doha Round, which was languishing, gained a new lease of life after the Davos leadership meeting in Switzerland. Major players such as the United States are willing to move, but will not, in the language of nuclear arms negotiations, unilaterally disarm. In other words, even though the U.S. realizes that their system of agricultural subsidies is inefficient, they will not move on agriculture without other agricultural powers moving. Thus, for the U.S. to make substantial reforms in agriculture, other major players must move, too. If Taiwan were to move in the direction of agricultural liberalization, it would have a profound effect on the entire negotiating process.
What needs to be done? Let's look at biotech, which is closely related to agriculture. The government's "Two Trillion, Twin Stars" initiative aims to boost one of the future "star" industries, biotechnology.
The inability of a virus-resistant papaya strain to gain a patent illustrates the conservative regulatory approach being adopted by officials here, says a recent issue of "Topics" magazine, published by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei (AmCham).
Attacks by two different viruses have posed a threat to the profitability of papaya-growing in Taiwan and elsewhere. To prevent the viruses from destroying the fruit, thousands of hectares of papaya orchards must be covered with expensive netting.
"Researchers have sought to come to the rescue of papaya lovers and farmers by developing a super papaya that can resist both viruses -- but there's a catch. The solution is to use genetic modification (GM), but that phrase can carry a heavy burden: the fear of the unnatural, the potentially unhealthy, or even the nightmarishly destructive. These apprehensions have so far stymied a prospective technological miracle and prevented a prosperous GM industry from forming in Taiwan," says Topics.
Researchers have developed such other GM food as tomatoes, watermelons, and lemons, with government funding. Yet despite the considerable investment in R&D, little progress has occurred in generating a return by marketing the seeds and thus increasing the export potential of Taiwan crops. Some farmers in Taiwan have stolen GM papaya from test fields, and have taken the risk of growing and marketing them illegally.
Yeh Shih-dong, a professor at National Chung Hsing University, the primary developer of the GM papaya, says that his strain is even being grown in mainland China. Unable to obtain a patent for his papaya strain despite 12 years of effort, Yeh is unable either to collect royalties from farmers or to stop unauthorized use of the seeds.
Standing between Yeh and his patent are the Department of Health (DOH) and the Council of Agriculture (COA), which are responsible for monitoring food safety and the agricultural environment respectively. "Yeh's problem is a microcosm of the overall obstacles facing GM seed commercialization" says Topics.
Without patent protection and environmental approval for planting, commercialization cannot move forward, and negotiating for approvals from government regulators for more than a decade -- without profits -- is an entrepreneur's nightmare. Yeh has yet to acquire a patent, and says he is now ready to give up, frustrated by what he sees as the endless hurdles that various government committees put in his path.
Government regulation of GM foods has been a barrier in many parts of the world for more than a decade. With time the rules become much clearer and more navigable. Startup agricultural biotech companies that have come up with easily marketable crops will play a key role in pushing the envelope, as their survival depends on it. Should the barriers be relaxed, Taiwan may have an abundance of ingenious products to offer the world market.
Bt Toxin Variability in GM Cotton
- Crop Biotech Update, March 2, 2007 http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate
GM cotton has been one of the most rapidly adopted transgenic crops. It is very effective in controlling target pests, and the benefits to the consumer and the environment have been well reviewed. There has been no report of product failures, but there are observations indicating that the efficacy of the transgenic to target lepidopteran pests may not be consistent during the growing season, said H. Dong and W. Li of the Cotton Research Center in China.
The researchers reviewed that the efficacy against target pests depends upon the expression of the Cry genes inserted in the cotton genome. The Cry genes may produce varying levels of the insecticidal Bt toxin depending on the plant age, plant structure or under certain environmental stresses - such as high temperature, salinity, or water and nitrogen deficiency. In instances where reduced insecticidal protein is observed, it may have been caused either by post translational regulation or due to methylation of the gene promoter.
Though all current Bt cotton cultivars are still effective in controlling target pests, Dong and Li suggest that developing new varieties with more powerful resistance, applying certain plant growth regulators, enhancing intra-plant defensive capability, and maintenance of general health of the transgenic crop are important in realizing the full potential of the crop.
The article was published by the Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science. Its abstract, with links to the full paper, can be accessed by subscribers at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1439-037X.2006.00240.x