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March 19, 2007


Maize Coexistence Tested in Germany; Monsanto working on drought-tolerant GM cotton; A Manifesto European Union Must Read; China to quadruple agri-biotech spending; Choose Which Rights to Violate; Moonshine Lullaby On organic liquors


Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org March 19, 2007

* Maize Coexistence Tested in Germany
* Monsanto working on drought-tolerant GM cotton
* A Manifesto European Union Must Read
* China to quadruple agri-biotech spending
* Choose Which Rights to Violate
* Moonshine Lullaby On organic liquors


Bt, Non-Bt Maize Coexistence Tested in Germany

- International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), March 16, 2007, http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate/2007/03/16.html#announcement

Results of a pre-commercial field scale trial conducted in 30 sites in Germany demonstrated that coexistence between Bt maize and the non-transgenic counterpart is possible. The study conducted by W. E. Weber and colleagues at the Martin Luther University, showed that levels of the transgene in the grains of the non-transgenic maize can be kept below 0.9 percent, the threshold level for labeling GM products in the European Union.

The group of Weber grew maize in field sites ranging from 0.3 to 23 hectares in size. In all areas, a Bt maize hybrid containing transgenic event MON810 was planted in the middle of the field and surrounded by non-Bt maize. The maize flowering times were overlapping. During harvesting, the researchers obtained plant samples from the non-Bt maize located 0 to 60 meters away from the Bt maize. The DNA of the samples was analyzed by two diagnostic laboratories where real-time PCR was used to detect the levels of the transgene.

The study has determined that no samples from the conventional maize collected beyond 10 meters had levels of GM above the threshold of 0.9 percent. The researchers recommend that planting 20 meters of conventional maize as a pollen barrier between adjacent fields is sufficient in managing the outcrossing between Bt and non-Bt maize.

Subscribers to the Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science can access the full article at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1439-037X.2006.00245.x


[ed. note: This is the text at the link supplied.]

Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science

Volume 193 Issue 2 Page 79 - April 2007

To cite this article: W. E. Weber, T. Bringezu, I. Broer, J. Eder, F. Holz (2007) Coexistence Between GM and Non-GM Maize Crops - Tested in 2004 at the Field Scale Level (Erprobungsanbau 2004) Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science 193 (2), 79-92. doi:10.1111/j.1439-037X.2006.00245.x Next Article Original Article Crop/Forage/Soil Management/Grassland Utilization Coexistence Between GM and Non-GM Maize Crops - Tested in 2004 at the Field Scale Level (Erprobungsanbau 2004)

* W. E. Weber, * T. Bringezu, * I. Broer, * J. Eder, and * F. Holz

* Authors' addresses: Prof. Dr W. E. Weber (corresponding author; e-mail: eberhard.weber@landw.uni-halle.de) and Dr T. Bringezu, Institute of Plant Breeding and Plant Protection, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, D-06099 Halle, Germany; Prof. Dr I. Broer, Agrobiotechnology, Faculty of Agro- and Environmental Sciences, University of Rostock; Dr J. Eder, Bavarian State Research Centre for Agriculature, Institute for Crop Science and Plant Breeding, Am Gerenth 4, D-85354 Freising, Germany; Dr F. Holz, State Institute for Agriculture Forestry and Horticulture Saxony-Anhalt, Strenzfelder Allee, D-06006 Bernburg, Germany

Institute of Plant Breeding and Plant Protection, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Halle, Germany


The objective of the study was to test the feasibility of coexistence between genetically modified (GM) and non-GM maize under real-life agronomical conditions. GM hybrid maize with the event MON810 (Bt maize) was drilled at 30 sites in fields surrounded by near isogenic conventional maize, although only 27 sites could be finally evaluated. Field sizes of Bt maize varied between 0.3 and 23 ha, and the flowering period of the Bt and conventional maize was synchronous. At some sites, different planting dates of GM and non-GM maize or an earlier ripening conventional maize were tested in additional strips to obtain altered flowering and thereby reduce cross-pollination. The overlapping of flowering periods was successfully avoided only at two sites where non-GM maize was planted 25 or 28 days later. During harvest, samples were taken from the conventional maize in strips at distances of 0-10, 20-30, and 50-60 m to the Bt maize fields to assess the GM DNA content as a function of distance. Sampled materials included chaffed plant material intended for silage (18 sites), grains (eight sites), or crushed husks and cobs (one site). Wind effects were taken into account by sampling in all four compass directions. Quantitative PCR was used to detect the event specific MON810 DNA sequence in sampled materials. The analysis was conducted by two certified independent diagnostic testing companies selected in a pre-test. Taking averages over all compass directions and the two laboratories no samples collected beyond 10 m had levels of GM above the threshold of 0.9 %. In conclusion, the data indicate that coexistence of GM and conventional maize is possible under real-life large-scale agronomical conditions. Levels of GM DNA in harvested grain resulting from outcrossing can be managed to levels below 0.9 % by simply planting 20 m of conventional maize as a pollen barrier between adjacent fields.

[ed. note: You can purchase the right to read this article online for USD$ 39.00. This is not an advertisement, it's an ed. note.]


Monsanto working on drought-tolerant GM cotton

- The Hindu, March 17, 2007, http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/008200703170360.htm

(PTI): World's leading seed-player 'Monsanto' has been developing a drought resistant genetically modified cotton variety, which could possibly be released by 2015 for commercial cultivation.

"We hope to release a drought tolerant cotton seed by the middle of next decade," Monsanto Executive vice-president, Jerry Steiner, told reporters here on Friday.

"However, after five years we would be able to say for sure, when the variety is to be released," he added.

The Monsanto official also said the company is currently doing research to develop genetically-engineered seeds that can minimise the use of fertilisers.

GM seeds are basically known for reducing the risk of pest in the crops, while helping farmers reduce their investment with lesser use of pesticides and insecticides.

Steiner denied allegations that Monsanto was charging an exorbitant amount as technology fees from the Indian companies, saying "it is not correct."

The high technology fees is said to be the main reason for the inflated prices of Monsanto's GM seeds, which were reduced to some extent after intervention by the MRTPC.

Admitting that high prices of seeds is an issue, Steiner said the cost of seeds should be viewed in the context of returns that farmers earn from Bt Cotton.

The Monsanto official also said his company stopped release of the second generation Bollgard, a GM cotton seed, in China because the country had a poor record of respecting intellectual property rights.

Stopping short of praising India on intellectual property issue, Steiner said, "We are here for the last 50 years and would continue to be here for long."


A Biotechnology Manifesto European Union Must Read

- James Wachai, GMO Africa, March 19, 2007, http://www.gmoafrica.org/2007/03/biotechnology-manifesto-european-union.html info+at+gmoafrica.org

The European Association for Bioindustries has unveiled a Green Biotechnology Manifesto, which spells out the road map for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) adoption in Europe.

Released at a biotechnology gathering in Lyons, France, organized by BioVision, an international platform that fosters dialogue, debates and proposals in Life Sciences, the manifesto underscores the importance of agricultural or "green" biotechnology to Europe.

It calls on Europe to rethink its stand on agricultural biotechnology noting that, "planting [of genetically modified crops] in Europe has been much slower, but is accelerating as farmers start realizing the benefits of biotech crops."

"Biotechnology is being exploited at an accelerating rate by Europe's competitors, but if allowed to flourish, it will contribute to the increased economic and environmental sustainability of European agriculture and to efforts to ensure world food stocks keep up with rising demand," Adds the manifesto.

Perhaps, the most interesting observation one can make from this manifesto is its call on Europe to respect other countries' freedoms to grow and trade in genetically modified commodities.

"New biotech products and crops continue to be approved, cultivated and commercialized at a higher speed and in greater numbers in other parts of the world such as North America, South America, Asia, and South Africa," It observes, adding, "...the EU (European Union) does not permit any presence of biotech material, approved outside the EU, to be present in traded commodities entering the EU."

I have repeatedly pointed out in this blog that Europe needs to put its act together on GMOs. Europe's current anti-GMOs policies hurt farmers in developing countries more than it does its own. As the manifesto notes, the EU strictly prohibits agricultural imports containing minutest of GMOs. What this means is that most developing countries won't dare touch GMOs for fear of losing lucrative European markets for their agricultural products. By default, the EU has barred them from growing genetically modified crops.

This is unfair, to say the least. The EU accords member countries flexibility to grow or not to grow genetically modified crops. They're even free to trade their biotech agricultural products within the EU block unhindered. And the EU won't object if they donate, as relief aid, some of their surplus biotech food to developing countries. In fact, the European Commission (EC), the EU's executive organ, itself, hauls tones and tones of food, some of it biotech, to poor countries, "to feed the hungry and malnourished."

So, it seems that it's alright for developing countries to be recipients of biotech food originating from EU countries, but it's unacceptable for them to grow their own biotech crops. This is hypocrisy and demonstrates how the EU is least interested in promoting sustainable development programs in poor countries.

It's every farmer's solemn right, whether in Europe, Africa, Asia, or America, to experiment on new agricultural technologies such as biotechnology. Unfair laws, such as the ones being maintained by the EU, should never be allowed to stifle such endeavors.


China to quadruple agri-biotech spending

- Salamander Davoudi, The Financial Express, March 18, 2007, http://www.financialexpress-bd.com/index3.asp?cnd=3/18/2007§ion_id=1&newsid=55820&spcl=no

LONDON: The Chinese government is expected to more than quadruple its spending on biotechnology by 2010 as part of its strategy to improve national food security.

"Spending on biotechnology is expected to increase fivefold," said Zhang Liang Chen, president of the Agricultural University of China.
Jikun Huang, director of the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy in Beijing, said spending on agricultural biotechnology was due to at least double, although the budget for the next five years had yet to be finalised.

"There will be a very substantial increase in investment in biotechnology, especially agricultural biotechnology," he said.

China already accounts for 20 per cent of the global research and development investment in agricultural biotechnology. According to Mr Huang, the Chinese government spent $200m on agri-biotech in 2003, an amount that has since doubled.

China's population currently stands at 1.3bn, or about 20 per cent of the world's total. By 2020 it is expected to have climbed to 1.5bn. Yet the country lays claim to only 7.0 per cent of the world's total arable land.

"The government takes the issue of food security seriously," said Mr Chen. "Last year we imported 17m tonnes of soybean from the US, Brazil and Argentina. This dependency could lead to trouble in the future."

Xu Guanhua, the minister of science and technology, has said he believes biotechnology "could become the fastest-growing industry in China in the next 15 years".

The increase in demand for food is expected to soar in Asia over the next 10 to 15 years. Demand for maize by 2020, for example, is expected to be 80 per cent higher, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.

The Chinese government's agri-biotech programme employs 2,000 scientists who work across 200 government-funded labs. Around 6.8m farmers in China use biotechnology crops.

But despite plans to beef up investment the Chinese have so far been reluctant to commercialise genetically modified food crops. The only GM food crops to be approved so far are tomatoes, sweet pepper and papaya. "The government has been worried about food safety," said Mr Chen.

China has over a dozen biotech crops being field tested including the three main staples - rice, maize and wheat as well as cabbage, cauliflower, soybean, cotton, melon and tobacco.

Some crops, such as soya, are unlikely to be planted commercially in China for some time. The government has a policy of growing only non-GM soya for export at premium prices to Europe, South Korea and Japan. But Chinese advances in technology represent a threat to private companies in the sector such as Monsanto.

Clive James, chairman of the ISAAA, said: "The landscape is changing very fast. China has already developed a biotechnology cotton variety that is insect-resistant that competes with the private sector companies."


Forced to Choose Which Rights to Violate

- Moyiga Nduru, Inter Press News Service, March 19, 2007, http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=36985

Images of tiny, malnourished African children, some scavenging for leftover food, have continued to grace the cover of brochures, posters and video clips of aid agencies since the devastating famine that claimed more than one million lives in Ethiopia 22 years ago.

Since that famine, regarded as one of the worst in recent history, Africa should have attained self-sufficiency in food production. It has not. Of all the resources that the World Food Programme (WFP) is mobilising through appeals to feed 80 million people worldwide this year, 73 percent is for Africa, the United Nations (UN) agency said.

Part of the donations the WFP is raising, estimated at 3.2 billion US dollars for global operations, will go to Southern Africa where 4.3 million people require food aid as a result of erratic weather patterns, chronic poverty and high HIV/AIDS prevalence.

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), some 1.1 million people in Southern Africa died of the pandemic in 2005 - one third of all AIDS-related deaths globally. Southern Africa is at the epicentre of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

A huge chunk of the food pledges will go to the Sudan where the WFP has the largest humanitarian operation at the moment, with a total requirement of over 685 million US dollars for this year (2007).

But for how long should Africa depend on relief aid? Increasing numbers of campaigners are refusing to accept the argument that drought and flooding are responsible for food shortages in Africa.

"Just as we in Africa experience drought every year, the United States experiences it. The difference is that there are institutions in place in the United States to mobilize food and which force the government to assist farmers," said Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, deputy director for the Millennium Campaign based in Nairobi, Kenya, in an interview.

"(President George) Bush, for example, will act fast to help farmers for fear that he or his party might lose the next elections. Such pressures are lacking in Africa," Abdul-Raheem argued.

"In Africa, we do not have effective institutions and, as a result, leaders ignore farmers," said Abdul-Raheem, who attended the March 7-14 conference of Anglican leaders in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The conference, attended by over 400 participants including Rowan Williams, leader of the 77 million Anglicans, was exploring ways to speed up the implementation of the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. Food security is linked to many of the eight MDGs that countries had set for themselves in 2000.

"Half the 850 million people who currently go hungry globally are children. The MDGs call for halving poverty by 2015, but the picture is not rosy," Sheila Sisulu, deputy executive director of the WFP, based in Rome, told the Anglican clergy. "Studies show that the number of people going hungry is increasing."

She blames part of the problem on food dumping and wastage. Japan is one example of how food is being wasted in affluent societies.

Passing through Japan on her way to South Africa to attend the Anglican conference, Sisulu found that Japanese restaurants do not allow customers to take home leftover food in a "doggy-bag", a common practice in South Africa.

They fear that the food may go bad, causing customers to suffer from food poisoning, she said.

"Japan imports 75 percent of its food, and dumps 30 percent of the food," said Sisulu. "There is just too much food in the world. Yet people continue to die of hunger everyday."

Apart from food dumping and wastage, politics also affects food security. Zimbabwe, once regarded as the breadbasket of Africa, is a classical example. President Robert Mugabe's 2000-2002 "land reform programme" in which land was seized from over 4,000 white commercial farmers ended up destroying Zimbabwe's agriculture-based economy.

Inflation now runs at over 1,600 percent, the highest in the world, according to the latest figures by the state-run Central Statistics Office in Zimbabwe's capital of Harare.

Tapera Kapuya, who runs the South African branch of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a Harare-based pressure group that campaigns for a new constitution for Zimbabwe, told IPS that 3.2 million people need food in Matabeleland, southern Zimbabwe.

"Parts of Zimbabwe are of particular concern as early indications are that cereal crops in much of the southern half of the country have been decimated by a dry spell in January and early February," confirmed the WFP in a statement on March 8.

Leading hungry Zimbabweans to hold a prayer meeting in Harare on March 10, Kapuya's boss Lovemore Madhuku was brutally beaten up by the police, along with Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Police claimed that the MDC and NCA were holding an unlawful meeting aimed to force a regime change in Zimbabwe. "The situation in Zimbabwe is bad. People are living from hand to mouth. There is no fuel, no food and no medicine," Jerry Mashamba, a Johannesburg-based representative of the faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara, told IPS in an interview.

Conflicts undermine food security, as the experiences in the Sudan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire and northern Uganda have shown.

"The 20-year old conflict has ensured that the northern Ugandans are currently the poorest in the country. The 1.4 million people living in the more than 70 IDP (internally displaced persons) camps depend on handouts from agencies and religious institutions with a minimal contribution from the government," Jessica Nalwoga of the Church of Uganda told the participants.

"Most parents are not able to provide clothing for the children to wear to school. Neither can they provide adequate school materials. Parents are on a daily basis faced with the task of choosing which human rights to violate education, health or food? For they can hardy meet any since they are themselves living on handouts," she said.

Talks to end the conflict in Northern Uganda, a region that boasts of one of the fertile lands in the country, foundered after the rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), notorious for chopping off suspects' lips, ears and limbs, demanded a change of venue and mediator. The talks were being held in the Southern Sudanese capital of Juba.

Equally concerned about food shortages, Salil Shetty, director of the Millennium Campaign, urged church leaders to help poor countries meet their MDGs.

"Church leaders understand their role in society. The influence they exert at the grassroots is immense. Churches meet their congregations once a week, while politicians meet voters once in four of five years. Church leaders are closer to the society than politicians," he said.


Moonshine Lullaby On organic liquors

- Umbra Fisk, Grist Magazine, March 19, 2007, http://www.grist.org/advice/ask/2007/03/19/liquor/

Ask Umbra

Got questions about the environment? Ask Umbra.

[Q]uestion[:] Hi Umbra,

After an epic weekend of drinking, I realized I've never seen or heard about any organic liquors. I've seen organic beer and wine, but never any organic gin, vodka, scotch, etc. Any chance I can drink in the future without having to feel guilty about not being organically drunk?

David Tucker

Rockville, Md.

[A]nswer[:] Dearest David,

Isn't the whole point of drunkenness insulation from guilt and its fellow emotions? Don't feel guilty. No, I'm not advocating drunkenness as a solution to environmental troubles -- and no, I will never forgive my editor for liking this question, thereby forcing me to read the advertising pap on an organic vodka site. Apparently, "happily, doing good no longer means doing without." Also, there is now something called "eco-chic." It's a movement. What I miss down here in the basement.

[photo caption: Organic liquor for olive us!]

But before I can investigate eco-chic, back to drunkenness: popular for centuries, and now available organically certified, or at least organic-ingrediented. The following is a quick sampling of organic wares I have come across (though not tossed back): American-made vodkas, a London-distilled gin, a Philadelphia gin, a couple of whiskeys and a brandy, and a Paraguayan (!) rum. (Did Stroessner live long enough to do bad without doing without?)

For your home liquor cabinet, then, you will be able to stock the organically sourced basics. When you're out on the town with other eco-chic peeps, though, it'll be a bit tougher. Restaurants and bars that market themselves on organically based menus are most likely to carry these new spirits, so you'll have to research what's available on your usual route to drunkenness. (Don't forget, drunkenness is made safer for all through use of public transit.) I think the internet will do you right, because if restaurants are carrying these spirits, they should be putting it on their websites for all to know.

To answer the assumed next question, organic spirits are fairly low on the priority list of lifestyle changes. We consume less liquor than we do solid food, hence we should prioritize organic (and local) food in our budget, and even prioritize eating less meat over drinking more organic liquor. Yes, "doing without" still has its ecological proponents. Hip to be square, man.

I feel confident prioritizing within liquors on the basis of their source. Corn can be genetically modified (36.5 million acres in the U.S. in 2003), is a huge monocrop, and uses many pesticides, so let's make corn-based spirits, such as vodka and bourbon, number one on the organic drunk's new shopping list. I go further with my assumption-based ranking when I presume that juniper berry production is less chemical-intensive and less feudal than sugarcane production; so I will boldly move forward and recommend organic rum as a priority over organic gin. The advertising materials make them all sound nice, however, and some of them come in very pretty bottles. A great, fun way to support organic farmers. Just remember, don't drink and drive -- and don't drive much even when you're sober.




*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net. Prakash is traveling.