Today in AgBioView* from http://www.agbioworld.org - March 8, 2006
* Colombia approves GM corn
* Monsanto, Dupont may win seed approval in Brazil
* Biotech Crops Help World's Farmers 'Go Green'
* Sustainability, not organic, should be goal
* Doubled sugar content in sugarcane plants
* Open Your Mind to Cloned Food
* EU agency asked to rule on cloned meat and milk
* Genetically modified products have received chilly reception
* Human genes fine in medicinal crops
* No grisly food details, please..
* Survey Finds Emotional Reactions to Nanotechnology
* Table of Contents - ISB News Report
* Horror Movie: GM Sheep Attack!
Colombia approves GM corn - Two varieties of GM corn will be grown in Colombia
- Lisbeth Fog, SciDev.Net, March 7, 2007, http://www.scidev.net/news/index.cfm?fuseaction=readnews&itemid=3464&language=1
[BOGOTÁ] Colombia has allowed genetically modified (GM) corn to enter its borders for the first time, and will authorise plantations of other GM products later in the year.
The Colombian Institute of Agriculture (ICA) approved one hundred kilograms of GM corn for import last month, half of which is resistant to a herbicide and the other half to insects.
Andrés F. Arias, from the Ministry of Agriculture, says growers from four regions of Colombia - Córdoba, Huila, Sucre and Tolima - will be allowed to buy the seeds.
Ana Luisa Diaz, of ICA, told SciDev.Net that authorisation has been given only to regions where the Institute has done controlled biosafety assessments.
The ICA will conduct follow-up biosafety studies of the seed from planting until harvest.
The ICA later approved the import of two other varieties of GM corn, both resistant to insects, for use in the Caribbean region of the country. The quantity imported will based on the interest expressed by farmers in the region.
At a meeting this week (3 March) Arias also announced approval of semi-commercial plantations of GM cassava, rice, roses, sugarcane and coffee later this year, with commercial approval to be granted in 2008.
But some are concerned about the developments. German Velez, from the non-governmental organisation Grupo Semillas says, "The biosafety policies and rules in this country are nonsense."
Velez is concerned that the GM products will cross-pollinate and therefore alter the natural species of these plants. He pointed to a case in México, where he says natural corn has been contaminated by GM corn.
"These technologies have been designed for big agricultural companies and won't benefit the poor," he said. However, he acknowledged that studies have not yet determined GM products' effect on human health.
Arias defended GM products, saying they increase crop production per hectare and therefore boost farmers' incomes while reducing pressure on natural ecosystems.
Osiris Ocando, from Agro-Bio, a non-profit organisation, applauded the government's decision. She hoped Colombian farmers could make use of a wide variety of GM corn seeds, as it is "essential that the Colombian agricultural sector is able to use modern technology to enhance its competitiveness". Colombia is one of the 22 countries to have planted GM seeds. Of its cotton plantations, 41 per cent (22.7 hectares) are the GM variety Bt.
Monsanto, Dupont may win seed approval in Brazil
- Jack Kaskey and Carlos Caminada, Bloomberg News, 6 Mar 2007, http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601086&sid=adRQ_V2bFC1g&refer=latin_america BLOOMBERG
Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co., the world's leading developers of genetically modified seeds, may win faster approval to sell their products in Brazil under new biotech regulations, analysts said.
Monsanto, the world's largest biotech crop developer, may get Brazilian approval this year to market seeds engineered to resist the corn borer insect, Citigroup Global Markets analyst P.J. Juvekar said in a report. DuPont and Dow Chemical Co. may win approval for their jointly developed version of the insect- killing corn seed next year, he said.
While Brazil allows farmers to plant modified soybeans, it hasn't approved corn engineered to resist bugs and weed killers. Brazil's Senate on Feb. 27 passed a bill allowing the National Commission of Technical Biosafety to approve new seeds by a simple majority, instead of the previous two-thirds majority.
"It will no doubt speed things up,'' said Alda Lerayer, a researcher at the Biotechnology Information Council, which is funded by Monsanto and other biotechnology companies.
Last year, a new corn seed and a vaccine for pigs were rejected by the 27-member biosafety council even though they garnered support from a simple majority, Lerayer said in a telephone interview from Sao Paulo.
Monsanto rose $1.86, or 3.7 percent, to $52.66 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have gained 20 percent in the past year. DuPont rose 96 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $50.82. The stock has climbed 25 percent in the past 12 months.
The speedier approval process may pave the way for Monsanto to gain a larger slice of Brazil's corn market, Citigroup's Juvekar said. Monsanto has increased its share of U.S. corn seed sales in each of the past six years, challenging the dominance of DuPont's Pioneer unit.
Some members of the biosafety council, made up of government officials and scientists, who are openly opposed to gene-altered crops could still stall approvals by delaying votes or seeking court injunctions, Lerayer said.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who last month announced 10 billion reais ($4.7 billion) of investments in biotechnology over the next 10 years, may try to speed up approvals by pressuring government officials to back the crops, Lerayer said.
"The government's willingness is a key part of the equation,'' she said. Juvekar upgraded his rating on Monsanto shares to "buy" from "hold," citing the potential for faster approvals in Brazil and a likely improvement in Latin American agriculture. He raised his price target to $60 from $52. Juvekar rates DuPont "buy" and Dow Chemical "hold."
Biotech Crops Help World's Farmers 'Go Green'
- U.S. Grains Council, March 8, 2007, http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/news_press_release,71854.shtml
Biotech crops have produced a decade of improvements in yield and net farm income for grain, oilseed and cotton farmers. Now, according to a peer-reviewed study on the crops' global economic and environmental impact, the benefits are "clear" -- especially reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.
In 2005, herbicide-tolerant biotech crops planted using conservation tillage practices helped to retain carbon in the soil. Insect-resistant crops dramatically reduced the need for spraying, while also significantly reducing farm fuel usage. All told, biotech crops, planted during their 10th year of use on 87 million hectares (215 million acres) by 8.5 million farmers, reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 9 billion kg. (8.9 million tons). That's the equivalent to removing nearly 4 million family cars from the road for an entire year, according to study author Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics Limited of Dorchester, United Kingdom.
Biotech Crops and the Green Era
"Simply put, biotech crops have changed the way people farm," Brookes said. "Their environmental performance during the first decade of use shows the important role the technology is playing both now and in the future in helping global agriculture reduce its greenhouse gas emissions."
According to Brookes, countries such as the United States, Canada and Argentina have led the way toward these environmental benefits by utilizing herbicide-tolerant crops to switch to no- and low-till crop production. There and elsewhere, insect-resistant biotech crops also have reduced sprayings. It all adds up to less tillage and reduced field operations, he said.
Brookes' study estimates that since their commercialization in 1996, biotech crops have saved farmers 1,679 million liters (441 million gallons) of fuel through reduced field operations -- eliminating 4,613 million kg. of carbon dioxide emissions.
Disturbing the soil with conventional tillage releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. No- and low-tillage cropping systems that use biotech herbicide-tolerant varieties, Brookes said, leave more plant residue on the soil's surface, sequestering the carbon and contributing to soil and water conservation.
In Argentina alone, the study estimates that herbicide-tolerant varieties helped to increase no-till soybean plantings by 157 percent, from 5.9 million hectares in 1996 to 15.2 million hectares in 2005 -- reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20,988 million kg.
Worldwide, use of biotech crops decreased the environmental impact of crop production associated with pesticide use by more than 15 percent as calculated using Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) methodology, according to the study. Since 1996, herbicide tolerant and insect-resistant biotech crops reduced pesticide sprayings by 224 million kg. (500 million pounds) of active ingredient -- a 6.9 percent reduction worldwide. That reduction is equivalent to about 35 percent of the annual volume of active ingredient applied to arable crops in the European Union.
$5 Billion Benefit to 2005 Net Farm Income
According to Brookes' estimates, biotech crops contributed $5 billion in net farm-level economic benefit to farmers -- or $5.6 billion if the additional income arising from a second crop of soybean in Argentina is included.
Combining biotech insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant traits in corn has boosted farm income by more than $3.1 billion since the traits' introductions, Brookes noted.
The largest gains in farm income have come from biotech soybean and largely from cost savings. In 2005, herbicide-tolerant soybean generated $2.84 billion additional income -- adding about 7 percent to the value of the crop in biotech soybean growing countries.
Brookes summarized that the economic and environmental benefits of biotech crops are fairly evenly divided between farmers in developed and developing countries. In 2005, farmers in developing countries captured 55 percent of the additional net farm income generated by biotech crops globally. Over the 1996-2005 period, farmers in developing countries accrued 48 percent of the environmental benefits, primarily from reduced crop protection product usage.
The study's documentation of biotech crops' increased productivity and reduced environmental impact comes at a good time. "We are constantly being asked if North America can produce enough corn to meet food, fuel and export needs," said U.S. Grains Council Chairman Vic Miller, an Iowa corn producer. "The answer is yes, especially with the help of biotechnology. This study goes a long way toward documenting the production increases achieved with biotech crops. And greater yields mean more corn for ethanol, which -- unlike fossil fuels -- removes carbon dioxide from the air each time a new corn plant sprouts. Reduced environmental impact through biotech crop use is becoming an important selling point as we communicate with our grain trading partners."
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), more than half of the world's arable land (776 million hectares/1.9 billion acres) lies in 22 countries now approved for planting biotech crops. By 2015, ISAAA forecasts biotech crops will be under cultivation in 40 countries with at least 20 million farmers planting 200 million acres annually.
"Projecting forward, the environmental gains made possible with biotech crops have the potential to compound quite dramatically as the technology is available to more farmers worldwide. These are environmental benefits that if overlooked in the past will not be in the future," Brookes concluded.
PG Economics Limited is a specialist provider of advisory and consultancy services to agriculture and other natural-resource-based industries. Based in Dorchester, United Kingdom, its specializations are plant biotechnology, agricultural production systems, agricultural markets and policy. The company's clients come from both the public and private sector and include the United Kingdom, the European Commission, food manufacturers and leading global agricultural input suppliers.
The U.S. Grains Council is a private, non-profit partnership of farmers and agribusinesses committed to building and expanding international markets for U.S. barley, corn, grain sorghum and their products. The Council is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has 10 international offices that oversee programs in more than 50 countries. The Council receives support from private industry members, including state checkoffs, agribusinesses, state entities and others and triggers federal matching funds from the USDA resulting in a combined program value of more than $25 million.
Sustainability, not organic, should be goal
- Elton Robinson, Delta Farm Press, March 7, 2007, http://deltafarmpress.com/news/070307-farm-policy/
Environmental Defense has released a new publication, "A dozen fresh ideas for farm and food policy." Many of its ideas have some degree of practicality - as its particular brand of environmentalism goes - such as the push to reward carbon sequestration in the soil and slowing urban sprawl.
But one idea clearly illustrates the difficulty that non-farmers have understanding how modern agriculture works. It states, "Farm and food policies should help farmers make the transition to organic food and fiber production to boost farm profitability, provide healthier food choices and help the environment."
This stubborn fixation for all things organic just won't go away will it? I have no choice but to submit three counterpoints:
No. 1 is the implication that conventional agriculture produces unhealthy food compared to organic agriculture. According to the American Dietetic Association, "Research shows that nutritionally, there is no evidence that organic produce is better or safer than conventionally grown produce. Organic foods differ from conventional foods only in the way they are grown and processed."
In addition the association stresses that it doesn't matter whether or not the fruits and vegetables you eat are organic or conventional, but simply that you eat them.
No. 2 is the assumption that conventional agriculture hurts the environment. This one is easy. It is farmers - the real environmentalists in action - who are driving the conservation bandwagon. New technologies like variable-rate application, genetic engineering and boll weevil eradication help farmers narrow the focus of their applications to specific sites in a field or to specific pests - a wise and efficient use of products.
New technology has increased average yield per acre in conventional agriculture, meaning less land is used to produce the same amount of food or fiber. Much of the land not used is converted to other uses, often for wildlife habitat.
No. 3 is the assertion that organic agriculture is more profitable. The implication here is that if all U.S. farmers went organic they would make more money. But somebody is overlooking a very important factor - the law of supply and demand controls price.
The reason organic is successful today is because it's a niche market, with tightly controlled supplies, pre-production and pricing contracts and a handful of diehard consumers. Try expanding the organic model of production 10,000-fold and see what happens. It could get ugly, quick.
The Environmental Defense needs to do its homework before submitting another round of fresh ideas. Keep the focus on sustainability, not organic farming. Sustainable agriculture should feed and clothe the people, conserve our natural resources and make a profit for the producer. Wholesale changes in the structure of agriculture should not occur just because a handful of people feel good about organic.
Doubled sugar content in sugarcane plants modified to produce a sucrose isomer
- Luguang Wu and Robert G. Birch, Plant Biotechnology Journal, Vol. 5 No. 1, p. 109 (January 2007), http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-7652.2006.00224.x
Summary: Sucrose is the feedstock for more than half of the world's fuel ethanol production and a major human food. It is harvested primarily from sugarcane and beet. Despite attempts through conventional and molecular breeding, the stored sugar concentration in elite sugarcane cultivars has not been increased for several decades. Recently, genes have been cloned for bacterial isomerase enzymes that convert sucrose into sugars which are not metabolized by plants, but which are digested by humans, with health benefits over sucrose. We hypothesized that an appropriate sucrose isomerase (SI) expression pattern might simultaneously provide a valuable source of beneficial sugars and overcome the sugar yield ceiling in plants. The introduction of an SI gene tailored for vacuolar compartmentation resulted in sugarcane lines with remarkable increases in total stored sugar levels. The high-value sugar isomaltulose was accumulated in storage tissues without any decrease in stored sucrose concentration, resulting in up to doubled total sugar concentrations in harvested juice. The lines with enhanced sugar accumulation also showed increased photosynthesis, sucrose transport and sink strength. This remarkable step above the former ceiling in stored sugar concentration provides a new perspective into plant source-sink relationships, and has substantial potential for enhanced food and biofuel production.
Open Your Mind to Cloned Food
- Pallavi Gogoi, Business Week, March 7, 2007, http://www.businessweek.com/debateroom/archives/2007/03/open_your_mind.html?chan=technology_technology+index+page_more+of+today's+top+stories
The 27% drop in beef consumption over the last three decades has cattle ranchers looking for a remedy. One of the biggest problems: Consumers don't trust the steaks available in supermarkets. They feel reluctant to buy unless they know for sure that sirloin in their cart will taste hearty and full-flavored, yet tender.
Enter cloning. Instead of simply breeding more cattle and hoping that greater numbers will yield better beef, farmers can choose to a reproduce cows guaranteed to produce the highest-quality steaks. How? At the slaughterhouse, where the determination of grade is decided, workers can harvest genetic material from prime steaks - the highest grade, which currently accounts for just 2% of all beef.
With those cells, the ranch can clone steers just like the ones that churned out winning steaks. Ditto with milk cows.
The livestock operation owned by U.S. farming giant J.R. Simplot Co. has already put these theories to the test. In addition to cloning animals that provide the best milk or meat, it has used the same technology to reproduce those with unusual desirable traits. For example, Simplot found one of the steers was gaining weight at a rate of 8 pounds per day eating the same feed that caused other steers to put on just 3.5 lb. a day. Today, seven clones of that steer exist.
So, with the evidence in, it's pretty much all good, right? Well, not so fast. Despite the FDA's report deeming the beef and milk from cloned animals safe for human consumption, some consumers feel "funny" about the idea of eating something "unnatural."
Time for a reality check. Scientific advances always sound a bit scary at first - imagine the first farmer contemplating the use of a milk machine instead of his hands. The truth is, the U.S.'s pioneering sci-tech has made it the superpower it is and given the world everything from the polio vaccine to the iPod, and now cloned farm animals.
Trust the FDA, and don't try to stop progress.
EU agency asked to rule on cloned meat and milk
- Darren Ennis, Scientific American, March 08, 2007, http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa003&articleID=5DE310FD9365CD111D778791085B1EB3
Europe's top food safety agency has been asked to determine whether meat and milk from cloned animals are safe to eat, European Commission officials said on Thursday.
In a letter sent to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) the same day, the European Union's executive arm asked it to "assess the possible implications of cloning for food safety, animal health, animal welfare and environment in the EU."
If the technology gets a green light from the EFSA -- the ruling is due in six months -- cloned food products could be in supermarkets across the 27-country bloc by next year.
Many consumer and religious groups strongly oppose cloning, which takes cells from an adult and fuses them with others before implanting them in a surrogate mother. They say scientists lack knowledge of its effects on nutrition and biology.
Advocates of livestock cloning say the technology will help produce more milk and lean, tender meat by creating more disease-resistant animals. They insist it is perfectly safe.
The Commission will also ask its ethics committee to give its opinion on the matter.
Commission officials said the move by the EU executive was prompted by a draft ruling from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last December that meat and milk products from cloned cattle, pigs and goats were safe for consumption.
Hundreds of livestock have been cloned mainly in the United States, but the Commission's letter said cloning "appears likely to develop both in the EU and internationally."
"Britain and Germany are pushing the matter. Britain has confirmed that it has imported a cloned offspring," a Commission official told Reuters.
"As far as we know, no products from the offspring have entered the food cycle."
The initial FDA ruling, to be endorsed fully in April, gave no assurances on sheep clones. But it did approve food made from clones' offspring, which would account for most of the clone-related food making its way onto dinner tables.
The FDA said it would be unlikely to recommend special labels for food made from clones, which are genetic twins of donor animals, but would not decide on the labeling issue until April following a 90-day public consultation.
Regardless of the EFSA's decision, consumers may need more assurances. More than half of shoppers in a recent survey by the International Food Information Council said they were unlikely to buy food made from cloned animals.
The largest U.S. dairy producer and distributor, Dean Foods, said last month that it would not sell milk from cloned animals due to consumer concerns.
Genetically modified products have received chilly reception
- Rachel Melcer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 8, 2007 http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/business/stories.nsf/0/7D98D51D12C58DD4862572980012B3A6?OpenDocument
A pair of local companies are developing omega-3 enriched soybeans that they hope will have consumers not just accepting, but demanding, biotech food.
Monsanto Co. and Solae Co. said Wednesday that they are teaming up to produce the first genetically modified food product with a benefit for consumers, rather than farmers. So far, all GM crops are designed to survive pests or herbicides.
The omega-3 enriched products, ranging from cooking oils and baked goods to mayonnaise and processed meats, could be on store shelves early next decade.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve heart health and decrease the risk of death from irregular heartbeats. Americans consume just one-fifth of the amount of certain omega-3 acids recommended by the American Heart Association.
"This is an opportunity where we can ... excite consumers to understand the benefits of biotechnology in general," said Tony Arnold, president and chief executive of Solae, a joint venture of DuPont and Bunge Limited that has its headquarters in St. Louis.
"We think there are health benefits that would outweigh the risks that have never been proven, but that some people believe exist" to eating genetically modified food, he said.
Most consumers have little understanding of genetically modified crops and their presence in the food chain, according to research by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, a University of Richmond project supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts that neither advocates for nor against agricultural biotechnology.
Sixty percent of American consumers believe they have never eaten GM foods, while 26 percent say they have, according to a November Pew study. But most - if not all - have, given that more than 90 percent of the U.S. soybean crop and more than 60 percent of field corn is genetically modified.
Monsanto, based in Creve Coeur, produces the bulk of those GM crops.
"Ingredients from biotech crops are ubiquitous in our food supply now," said Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew initiative. But these appear in packaged foods in indirect ways, through corn syrup, soybean oils and other ingredients.
Omega-3 enriched items, however, will tout their added benefits to consumers, said Jerry Steiner, executive vice president of Monsanto. "The food company is going to want to market that they've got this high-quality omega-3 in their (products)."
That is likely to bring consumer acceptance of GM food to the fore.
In Europe, many consumers and activist groups have rejected what they call "frankenfood," leading to government bans on the import of most GM crops. In the United States, there is a growing organic movement and demand for products perceived as being healthier - but Pew research indicates many people are on the fence about GM food.
Since 2001, when Pew began asking people if they oppose or favor the introduction of GM food, about 26 percent have steadily supported it; opposition has dropped from 58 percent in 2001 to 46 percent in 2006.
"How the next generation of biotech products is introduced - and their perceived benefits and risks - will be critical in solidifying U.S. consumer attitudes," wrote the Mellman Group, a research firm that conducted the November study for Pew.
The product being co-developed by Monsanto and Solae appears to be the first in a pipeline of "next-generation" GM foods - those created to confer a benefit to consumers.
Monsanto separately is developing GM soybeans that would produce cooking oil with health benefits similar to olive oil, which increases "good" HDL cholesterol levels without raising "bad" LDL cholesterol. These also are targeted for commercial use in the next decade.
Partnering with Solae makes sense for the biotech giant.
Monsanto is an expert in dealing with farmers, while Solae has long-standing relationships with food companies.
Solae also knows how to formulate soybean-based products so that they work in recipes for packaged goods. In this case, Solae is developing technology to give the omega-3 enhanced soybean oil a longer shelf life. Without that measure, the oil could oxidize and develop a fishy smell, Arnold said.
Solae's relationships also are key to gaining acceptance of the product. Packaged food companies and restaurant chains have balked at the prospect of GM wheat and potatoes, so none has been commercialized.
"The food companies have, in some ways, become a gatekeeper," Fernandez said. "They are ultimately responsible to their customers, so they are acutely aware of what their customers are interested in, concerned about, what they're looking for and what they're looking to avoid."
A spokesman for the industry trade group GMA/FPA, which represents food, beverage and packaged consumer goods producers, couldn't be reached for comment.
Monsanto and Solae hope their products will appeal to consumers' growing health consciousness. They cite market research that says sales of omega-3 infused foods - which now draw on fish and flaxseed sources - will grow at a 60 percent compound annual rate from 2002 to 2011. That could outstrip supply and threaten fish stocks, Solae noted.
The primary source of omega-3 in the diet is fish - which get the nutrient by consuming algae. Algae also is the source of the genetic trait that Monsanto will add to its GM soybeans.
Editorial: Human genes fine in medicinal crops
- New Scientist, 10 March 2007 (date of print edition), http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=mg19325942.900&feedId=health_rss20
THERE was a sense of déjà vu this week with news reports of a US company that wants to plant strains of rice engineered to produce human proteins. Headlines such as "Human genes in your food?" and references to Frankenstein brought back memories of the late 1990s when much of Europe was swept by hysteria over the prospect of genetically modified (GM) food.
The company, Ventria, hopes that the proteins will be useful for treating babies with diarrhoea who become dehydrated (see "Rice relations"). GM sceptics who worry about eating human genes can rest easy. Ventria's proteins would have to be purified, and people have been given GM human proteins for years: insulin and growth hormone to name but two.
The one real concern is that plants grown for medicines might contaminate the food chain, something the US agricultural system has so far appeared powerless to prevent. Before "pharming", as it is known, takes off big time, the question of how to keep food and medicinal crops separate must be solved.
No grisly food details, please..
Reuters, March 7, 2007, http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=oddlyEnoughNews&storyid=2007-03-07T232841Z_01_L06512104_RTRUKOC_0_US-FOOD-BRITAIN-WELFARE.xml&src=rss
British consumers increasingly take animal welfare into account in food purchases, but they don't want to know the gory details, a report said on Tuesday.
"We are a nation of animal lovers and concerns over welfare standards are helping to shape the content of our shopping baskets," Julie Starck, senior consultant with international food and grocery research body IGD, said in a statement.
The IGD's report showed that 64 percent of consumers have considered animal welfare when buying food, although only 10 percent claimed they buy all higher welfare foods.
The research found increased interest among consumers in the food they eat and how it was produced, a trend that also has sparked rising demand for organic and fairtrade products.
"Food has begun to provide an emotional as well as functional role in consumers' lives," the report said.
The IGD research was sponsored by Freedom Food, a food labeling scheme aimed at improving animal welfare standards which has been set up by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The report noted that many consumers felt guilt about eating meat and were reluctant to explore welfare issues.
"As consumers deliberately reject information on animal welfare due to the emotional response it provokes, it will be difficult to raise awareness of the issue, particularly at the point of purchase," the report said.
The report also linked the growth in demand to rising affluence among consumers.
"A strategy must be developed to ensure that current purchasers maintain their support even if an economic downturn results in lower levels of disposable income," the report said.
Survey Finds Emotional Reactions to Nanotechnology
The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (press release), March 7, 2007, http://www.nanotechproject.org/108/survey-finds-emotional-reactions-to-nanotechnology
Washington, DC - "The U.S. public's perception of nanotechnology is up for grabs. It could divide along the lines of nuclear power, global warming and other contentious environmental issues absent a major public education and engagement effort by industry, government, civic groups and scientists. People who know little or nothing about 'nanotechnology' instantly react in an emotionally charged way to the concept, and their opinions divide along cultural lines as they learn more about it," according to Dan M. Kahan, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor at Yale Law School.
His conclusions are based on the findings of a new web-based public opinion survey of U.S. public perceptions of nanotechnology. "Essentially, when asked what they think about this new technology, Americans go with their gut instinct - which usually reflects their views toward other issues like climate change and nuclear power. When they learn more, they tend to adopt a stance about nanotechnology that fits their political and cultural predispositions," said Kahan, one of the principal investigators in the study.
"Nothing in our findings suggests that public polarization over nanotechnology is inevitable," noted Don Braman, a professor at The George Washington University. "Our results indicate that another outcome is possible but unlikely unless government, business, and educators take a more proactive approach to nanotechnology public engagement and communication. How people learn about nanotechnologies, from whom, and with what message, will be critical to public perceptions in the future."
The results from this study of 1,800 persons who were recruited to participate in an online survey experiment were released today by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The research was conducted by The Cultural Cognition Project - an interdisciplinary team of top experts from Yale University, the University of Washington, The George Washington University, and Decision Research.
The study produced two major findings. The first is that "affect," or emotion, plays a major role in people's perceptions toward nanotechnology. According to Paul Slovic, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and president of Decision Research, "individuals' visceral reactions to nanotechnology play a bigger role in their perception of its risks and benefits than any other factor." "This is perfectly consistent," Slovic said, "with research on how people form opinions on complicated issues involving environmental and technological risks."
The second major finding of the study is that individuals' values determine their reaction to information about nanotechnology. "We exposed one group of subjects to information about the benefits and risks of nanotechnology, and we compared their views to those subjects who did not receive such information," explained Kahan.
"We found that when people who hold largely 'individualistic' values - and who tend to dismiss claims that commerce and industry are dangerous and need regulation - receive information about nanotechnology, they tend to focus on the benefits. When those who hold 'egalitarian' and 'communitarian' values - and who are relatively more community-oriented and sensitive to environmental and technological risks - get the same information, they focus on the risks."
"Social psychologists call this a polarization effect," Kahan said. The study showed that political liberals and conservatives polarize, too, when exposed to information about nanotechnology. Differences also emerged between whites and African Americans.
"Based on our results, it is fair to anticipate that as nanotechnology assumes a higher profile in the media and public imagination, people's attitudes may divide along the same lines that nuclear power or climate change have," said John Gastil, professor at the University of Washington. Gastil indicated that the Cultural Cognition Project team plans to engage in future research on ways to communicate about nanotechnology that doesn't polarize people.
The study also confirmed a major finding of an earlier poll conducted by Hart Research that Americans remain largely unaware of nanotechnology - despite government and industry investments of $10 billion annually in nanotechnology research and development. The new survey found that over 80 percent of U.S. respondents had heard "little" or "nothing at all" about nanotechnology.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of subjects - more than 90 percent - held an opinion about whether nanotechnology's benefits would outweigh its risks, even when supplied with no additional information.
"When it comes to nanotechnology, the American public is probably like people from Missouri - the 'Show Me' State," according to David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. "They have to be convinced that the benefits of this new technology - with its valuable applications in medicine, the environment, and energy production - will outweigh its risks. This survey indicates that just providing the public with factual scientific information about nanotechnology will not guarantee popular acceptance and support. The window of opportunity for reaching out to the public about nanotechnology - before polarization occurs - is closing fast. The current government strategy for educating and engaging the public is weak, and industry strategies are almost nonexistent," said Rejeski.
This study was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund at Yale Law School, and the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.
Table of Contents - ISB News Report
Information Systems for Biotechnology (USDA/CSREES, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University), ISB News Report, March 2007, http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2007/news07.mar.htm
# Improvement of Sorghum through Transgenic Technology
# Feeds from Genetically Engineered Plants - Results and Future Challenges
# The Incredible, Pharmaceutical Egg
# ISAAA Releases Annual Global Status Report of Biotech Crops
# FAO E-mail Conference Invitation: Water Scarcity and Agricultural Biotechnologies
GM Sheep Attack!
- Alisa Opar, Plenty Magazine, March 8, 2007, http://www.plentymag.com/thecurrent/2007/03/gm_sheep_attack.php
"Experiment gone wrong," "mutant," and "sheep" - these are IMDB's plot keywords for the science fiction movie Black Sheep.
Set in New Zealand, the film chronicles how a genetic engineering experiment turns docile sheep into blood-thirsty killers that attack the inhabitants of a large farm. Sure, the movie plays on public fears of genetic engineering and takes what-ifs to improbable extremes, but so did The Day After Tomorrow, which we found quite entertaining.
Though the filmmakers are guilty of hyperbole (Dolly, for instance, turned out to be a perfectly nice ewe that gave birth to several offspring, none of which terrorized humans), it sounds like the movie is worth seeing. As one reviewer said: "Anyone who likes the 'serious' zombie movies like Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later would enjoy this film as would the audiences of lighter films like Shaun of the Dead. It's somewhere in-between the two."
No word on when, or if, the movie will be released in the States. One thing is for certain - from now on we'll be counting bunnies instead of sheep when trying to get to sleep.
[ed. note: You can see the movie trailer on YoutTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gEDUDmZkyc ]
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net