Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org March 15, 2007
* MON863: Nothing New Nor Dangerous
* Why Do Cattle Die Eating Bt Cotton Plants?
* EU may miss "invisible revolution"
* BT cotton cultivation unlikely this summer
MON863: Nothing New Nor Dangerous
by Andrew Apel
"Monsanto Corn Allegedly Toxic," reads a headline in the March 15 edition of Red Herring.  They were beat to press by Britain's Daily Mail, which proclaimed, "GM corn 'could cause liver and kidney damage'."  Underscoring these shrill headlines was the announcement by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that it would, in the words of FoodNavigator.com, "review the new data presented by French scientists that revealed toxicity concerns in rats fed the MON863 variety of GM maize from Monsanto." 
However, there is no "new data." It's old data, which European authorities used in the course of approving the corn for import, feed and processing on August 8, 2005 and again under the Novel Food and Food Ingredient Regulation on January 13, 2006. The data are available online,  but beware--the .pdf file is 1,140 pages long.
What, then is new? Merely a reinterpretation of the data, supported by Greenpeace. It, too, is available online.  The paper seeks to contradict findings made in 2003 by Germany's Robert Koch Institut by the EFSA and France's Commission du Génie Biomoléculaire in 2004--all based on the same data, and all concluding that the rats were normal and the corn was safe.
In a nutshell, the Greenpeace-backed reinterpretation rests on data which show statistically significant differences in serum protein values or triglycerides mainly in rats fed *low* doses of MON863, but not in rats fed high doses of the corn. It's generally thought that the dose makes the poison, but in this case high doses showed no discernible effects. Does this truly reveal, as the title of the new paper suggests, "Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity?" The authors of the paper attempt to explain this by saying, cryptically, "This sex- and dose-related effect resulted in the fact that the growth variations of the 11% GMO males are *highly statistically lower* [em added] than their controls, and 33%-GM fed females higher."
However you'd like to interpret that, it remains the case that scientists evaluating MON863 rat studies have consistently found the variations occured randomly, were generally of small magnitude, and were within the normal range for laboratory rats.
It is unfortunate that the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology charge non-subscribers US$32 to read this seven-page paper, since Greenpeace is and others are guiding media perceptions of a paper few have apparently read.
Greenpeace has the option, via the publisher of the paper, to pay a fee to make the paper available free of charge to the public. However, such a move is unlikely. Its conclusion is, essentially, a complaint that "the statistical methods used by Monsanto were not detailed enough to see disruptions in biological parameters." What is obviously an argument among statisticians would not justify the alarming headlines which this activist group has thus far succeeded in generating.
MON 863, also known as YieldGard Rootworm, has completed full regulatory review and has been grown commercially in the United States and Canada since 2003. In addition, it has been approved for import and food use in countries like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Russia and Mexico. It is genetically modified to express the Cry3Bb1 Bt toxin, which enables the corn plants resist attack by the corn rootworm parasite. It is different from other GM corns on the market which express the Cry1Ab toxin, which is toxic to the European corn borer.
 "EFSA to review Monsanto maize concerns," March 15, 2007, http://www.ap-foodtechnology.com/news/ng.asp?n=74981-monsanto-efsa-mon-toxicity-gm
 "New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity," http://www.springerlink.com/content/02648wu132m07804/fulltext.html
Why Do Cattle Die Eating Bt Cotton Plants Only In The Telengana Region Of Andhra Pradesh In India?
- C Kameswara Rao Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education Bangalore, India, March 14, 2007, http://www.fbae.org/Channels/Views/why_do_cattle_die_eating_bt_cotton.htm krao+at+vsnl.com
For a month now, reports of dead cattle have occupied the centre stage in the Warangal, Khammam and Adilabad Districts of the Telengana area of Andhra Pradesh in India (Deccan Herald, February 7, 2007, The Hindu, March 2, 2007, GM Watch, March 4, 2007). None of the reports showed that Bt protein in the Bt cotton plants was the real culprit, but the purveyors of these reports would like the world to believe that there is something wrong with Bt cotton plants that cause these alleged animal deaths and so Bt transgenics should be banned.
With more than 90 per cent of cotton grown in the Telengana region being Bt cotton, the cattle graze on Bt cotton stubble. Since Bt protein is established beyond any reasonable doubt that it is non-toxic to mammals on account of its mode of chemical action, the investigation should concentrate on what other chemicals the dead/dying cotton plants contain affecting the cattle. The reported symptoms such as convulsions, nasal discharge, vomiting, respiratory problems and diarrhea can be caused by a variety of factors, and cannot be attributed exclusively to the chemical contents of Bt plants, as non-Bt cotton plants too contain the same chemical compounds except for the Bt protein.
A veterinary doctor reportedly said that the treatment is symptomatic since the 'culprit toxic substance is not identified'. 'It needs more than a laboratory analysis to curb the occurrence of animal deaths due to suspected poisoning' another veterinarian observed. The State Legislative Assembly seems to have been informed that no deaths of cattle attributable to the consumption of Bt cotton plants were reported. Yet the NGOs claim that the Government Veterinary Department ascribed the deaths to grazing Bt cotton plants.
I was in the Warangal District in the middle of December 2006, along with Professor Ronald Herring (Cornell University) and Dr S Shantharam (Biologistics International, US) and discussed sheep deaths with different groups of people and no one said that the sheep died only because they consumed Bt cotton plants.
The representatives of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CAS, Secunderabad), the most vocal face of anti-agricultural biotechnology and sheep death movement said that basing on the data provided by the Andhra Pradesh Shepherds Union, about 120 sheep died on eating Bt cotton leaves in 11 Mandals of Warangal and Khammam districts, last year. According to them there were many other reports of death of a large number of sheep in the region. CSA admitted that Bt protein is not toxic to mammals, but this wisdom evaporates when they go to the press. They also seem to consider that sheep deaths are due to 'nitrate toxicity'. But the nitrate content was not estimated either in the plants or the sheep body fluids and tissues. Drought and water stress results in the accumulation of a large number of chemical compounds in the drying plants, such as resins, polyphenols such as gossypol and several others, which can be toxic when consumed in large quantities. The leaves of such plants are no longer green; they acquire hues of red to deep purple. However, nitrates or other toxic compounds cannot be exclusive to Bt cotton plants
The Officers of the Department of Agriculture of the Warangal District we met said that sheep death cannot be attributed to Bt cotton and that residual pesticides are probably the cause, and sheep died even before Bt cotton was cultivated in the area.
An agriculture reporter of a local vernacular daily also does not believe that there is any connection between sheep deaths and Bt cotton.
We met several cotton seed and pesticide dealers who do not see any connection between Bt cotton and sheep deaths. They said that 'Chituku rogam', a fatal bacterial disease of sheep, appears in the District now and then and that what else the cattle have eaten along with cotton plants is also important.
Most of the large number of farmers we met in the District heard about sheep deaths but have no first hand knowledge of the issue. They have indicated that most reports of sheep deaths come from the township of Oorugunda where an NGO operates and also from the village area of Veladi.
None of the activists speak about sheep deaths that occurred before Bt cotton cultivation came into practice in this region. The big question is why cattle only in a few Districts of the Telengana region die? If cattle are reported to be dying on eating Bt cotton plants only in the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh, the causes are probably elsewhere, other than in the Bt stubble.
Next wave of reporting would be about people who fell sick on drinking milk from the cows and buffalos that ate Bt cotton plants. The remedies are simple-provide the cattle with proper feed and prevent them from grazing on drying cotton plants, no matter Bt or non-Bt.
As per the records of the District Department of Agriculture, a compensation of Rs. 3.27 crore was paid to the farmers in the Telengana District on account of alleged failure of Bt cotton crop during the last couple of years. From this precedence, it looks that the Government of Andhra Pradesh and producers of Bt cotton seed should now get ready to dish out compensation for cattle deaths in Telengana.
EU may miss "invisible revolution" because of biotech policy
- Budapest Business Journal, March 14, 2007, http://www.bbj.hu/main/news_24069_eu+may+miss+%25E2%2580%259Einvisible+revolution%25E2%2580%259D+because+of+biotech+policy.html
The European Union operates an effective ban on new gene-engineered seeds and risks missing out on the "invisible revolution" that's developing crops for cleaner fuels or washing detergents, the industry says.
Innovation by companies such as BASF AG and Bayer CropScience AG in developing nutritional changes to corn, plants for use in biofuels as well as food and feed crops that resist drought or disease is changing the market for genetically modified technologies. The EU has yet to approve new seeds for cultivation since lifting a five-year-old embargo in 2004. "The moratorium is still in place because no approvals for cultivation have been given" by European governments, said Hans Kast, CEO of BASF Plant Science.
"We have a go-slow situation in the EU, and the process needs to be accelerated because there's a long queue of applications," he said in a telephone interview from Lyon, France. In the last three months, EU governments have refused to strike down Hungarian and Austrian bans on imports of Monsanto Co. and Bayer biotech corn varieties. They also blocked a BASF request to allow farmers to grow a potato genetically modified to boost its starch content, in the first EU vote on permission for planting of a biotech crop in eight years.
In September, the World Trade Organization ruled that the ban was illegal and declined to find the embargo has been lifted. The European Commission, the EU's executive in Brussels, is trying to persuade governments to drop their opposition to the technology on environmental or human health concerns. While biotech crops were planted in 22 countries last year, generating sales of about Eur4.66 billion ($6.15 billion) for farmers, just six of the EU's then 25-nations planted biotech crops in 2006, led by Spain with 60,000 hectares (152,400 acres), the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications said.
Meanwhile US farmers planted three times more biotech crops last year than their counterparts in Argentina, the second-largest user of the technology, according to the January ISAAA report. The area sown with biotech crops rose 13 percent last year, to 102 million hectares, the report said. The organization, which is funded by the biotech industry, predicts that the total area planted with such crops may double to 200 million hectares by 2015. "People don't realize there's an invisible revolution going on," said Bernward Garthoff, chairman of the German Association of Biotech Industries and a board member of Bayer CropScience, the world's biggest developer of seed protection products.
In light of the WTO ruling, "the EU can't play at being an island anymore; they have to accept that others regulate differently," Garthoff said in a telephone interview from Lyon. With governments debating the threshold allowed for gene-modified crops within conventional varieties this year, "we're at a turning point" for the technology, Garthoff said. Still, environmental campaign groups such as Friends of the Earth International say the technology hasn't boosted yields or reduced the use of pesticides.
In a January 9 report, the group predicted that the EU "will remain a disaster zone for the biotech industry" because of public opposition. "It's a vicious circle," Garthoff said. "If you don't let a product reach the market then it doesn't matter how good the product is, the consumer won't back its evolution. The scientists working in the laboratories would love to have a more favorable environment, but in the meantime the EU is just missing out."
BT cotton cultivation unlikely this summer
Ashok B. Sharma, Financial Express (India), March 15, 2007, http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=157772
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) which met on Wednesday withheld any fresh approval of bt cotton for commercial cultivation in the ensuing summer season.
About 11 BT cotton hybrids with CRY 1 AC gene expression, 5 BT cotton hybrids expressing stacked genes and one bt cotton hybrid expressing CRY1 AC event 1 was on the agenda for approval for commercial cultivation. All these hybrids have gone through the requisite processes of field trials. "We did not approve any new BT cotton hybrids for commercial cultivation as the matter is subjudiced in the Supreme Court," said a senior GEAC official.
The GEAC is awaiting further orders from the apex court, which in response to a PIL filed by Aruna Rodrigues and other, had directed not to accord any fresh approval for field trials of any genetically modified (GM) crop, till the pendency of the case. However, the apex court made an exception for the field trials of GM mustard. The Supreme Court is slated to hear the case again on April 16.
However, in its last meeting on February 14, 2007, the GEAC had given its approval for renewal of its permission for commercial cultivation of 8 BT cotton hybrids for three years.
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor. Prakash is traveling.