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April 1, 2007


ECOWAS Ministers Agree on Biotechnology Plan; Plan to fight spurious BT cotton seeds; Brown-bag seed sales are illegal; Science wizards chosen for fair; Britain's funniest April Fool's jokes; Ireland to Host International Ag-Biotech Conference


Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org April 1, 2007

* ECOWAS Ministers Agree on Biotechnology Plan
* Plan to fight spurious BT cotton seeds
* Brown-bag seed sales are illegal
* Science wizards chosen for fair
* Britain's funniest April Fool's jokes
* Ireland to Host International Ag-Biotech Conference


ECOWAS Ministers Agree on Biotechnology Plan for Region

- Efam Dovi, March 31, 2007, Voice of America News, http://www.voanews.com/english/2007-03-31-voa16.cfm

Ministers from the Economic Community of West African States have agreed to use biotechnology to increase food production in their region. The agreement was reached at the third ECOWAS ministerial meeting on biotechnology and bio-safety, held in Accra, Ghana. Efam Dovi reports for VOA from Accra.

For four days, experts and ECOWAS ministers of agriculture, environment, science and technology discussed the issues surrounding the use of biotechnology in farming. Though it has been shown to increase agricultural production, some fear it could harm the environment. It is also costly, requiring expensive research.

In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, the ministers came down strongly in support of using biotechnology. The communiqué said it will improve productivity, make the farming sector more competitive and ensure sustainable management of natural resources.

But the communiqué also stressed that safety measures should be put in place, both at the national and regional levels, as part of the implementation process.

Marcel Nwalozie is from the west and central African Council for Agriculture Research and Development, an umbrella organization that co-ordinates agricultural research for west and central Africa.

"There is no technology that has no risk, but they have safety systems," he said. "So what we are trying to do is assure people that this technologies have risks and we have to put in place safety mechanisms."

Nwalozie says, to take advantage of developments in biotechnology, ECOWAS hopes to get financial support from regional development partners and from other sources.

"We are thinking of a regional approach, given the fact that this technology is expensive, but we know we need it," he added. "So how can we pull our resources together to make sure we are able to use this particular tool? It's not going to be very easy. We expect our development partners to come to our aid, we expect the governments of the various countries gathered here to also mobilize some resources."

The agriculture sector in West Africa faces a number of challenges. Among them are severe weather conditions and inadequate infrastructure, including poor transportation and storage facilities. Some say those issues needed to be addressed instead of adopting modern biotechnology.

But Ernest Debrah, Ghana's minister of Agriculture, says a comprehensive approach is being used.

"We are doing so many things concurrently to make sure that we move forward. So it is not a question of we are doing nothing about the basics, we are doing something about free flow of goods and services, we are doing something about common agriculture policy. What is so important about what we are doing, is that we are now doing all these things as a sub-region."

But the communiqué is only the first step. It is now up to ECOWAS heads of state to implement it.


Plan afoot to fight spurious BT cotton seeds in North India

- Parshant Krar, Financial Express (India), March 31, 2007, http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=159629

The spurious BT cotton seed menace that flourished last year in North India is likely to take hit this year as the companies and state governments have moved to nail the illicit trade. The unabated spurious trade in 2006 that has exposed the farmers to the perils of fake BT cotton also robbed the six authorised companies of Rs 150 crore business alone in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

Driven by the high margins and scarcity of quality hybrids last year a large quantity of varieties was smuggled largely from Gujarat and others states including Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra to these states. As per industry sources 75% of estimated 15 lakh sham BT cotton seed packets sown in three states were brought from Gujarat and the remaining from the other states. The price of this BT cotton seed fluctuated between Rs 450-1,000 per packet (450 gm) in the previous year.

The unrestrained violations heavily dented the gross sales figures in North India of authorised companies to 5.5 lakh packets whereas the market potential stood at over 16 lakh packets in the three-states.

Punjab, the state that has taken to BT cotton in major way in last two-years also turned out to be the biggest centre for bogus consignments as more than 60% of cotton acreage was covered under the false BT cotton in the previous year.

Alarmed by the extent in the state, the Punjab government has decided to deal with violators with heavy hand.

"The state government is seriously committed to wipe out the spurious BT cotton trade from the state. Authorities have been directed to gear up to tackle the menace and state agencies namely Marked and Punseed have been asked to supply the approved BT cotton hybrids," chief secretary Punjab Ramesh Inder Singh told FE. He said that the district level coordination committees have been told to keep close watch on spurious trade and state coordination committee would keep tab on illicit activities. "The state government has been successful in bringing down the price of BT cotton seeds to Rs 760 per packet. The step would go along way in hampering the illicit seed trade as the margins would be low now," Singh said.

Meanwhile the six companies companies have assured of adequate supply of BT cotton hybrids this time.

RK Sinha, executive director, All India Biotechnology Crop Association said that availability of good quality BT cotton hybrids would be much better this time. He said that the seed problem is expected to come down by 60% as the state government and the companies have already made strategies to conduct strict vigil. Sinha said that 20 more companies are waiting for Supreme Court's decision to get authorisation for sale of BT cotton seed in India likely to come before April 21.


Producers reminded brown-bag seed sales are illegal

NDSU Extension via Farm & Ranch Guide, March 31, 2007, http://www.farmandranchguide.com/articles/2007/03/31/ag_news/production_news/prod19.txt

As seed sales activity increases in the weeks preceding spring planting, the North Dakota State Seed Department reminds producers that brown-bag seed sales are illegal.

Plant Variety Protection Title V protects most varieties that may be sold only as a class of certified seed, according to Steve Sebesta, deputy seed commissioner. The unauthorized sale of protected varieties for reproductive purposes by unauthorized sellers, a practice commonly referred to as brown-bagging, is prohibited by federal law.

"The buyer's proof of certification is a valid seed tag or a bulk-sale certificate issued by an official seed certification agency, such as the North Dakota State Seed Department," Sebesta says. "Seed dealers are required, by law, to provide this documentation with each container of certified seed they sell."

Additionally, North Dakota seed laws require that seed sold in the state be labeled with specific information regarding the quality of the seed. This information must include the name of the kind and variety, lot identification number, origin, weed seed content, other crop seed content, percentage of inert matter, germination percentage and test date. The full name and address of the person who labels or offers the seed for sale also must be included. Proper labeling is required for all seed, even if it is not a protected variety.

"Brown-bagging seed is considered by some as a way to circumvent the legal process of seed sales and the payment of royalties or research fees to the variety owner," Sebesta says. "However, those engaged in this illegal practice risk significant penalties. Violators of the PVP Title V seed law may be fined, and those fines can extend to the conditioner, seller, buyer or anyone who assists in the unauthorized sale of protected varieties."

Recent cases in North Dakota and other states show how costly illegal seed sales can be. In the last several years, the State Seed Department has levied fines and fees totaling $124,933. In November 2004, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. was awarded $362,000 in damages arising from the illegal sale of one of its wheat varieties in Arkansas. Closer to home, Agripro Wheat, a division of Syngenta Seeds, recently announced a federal district court judgment of $49,000 against LB Grain Inc. of Lake Bronson, Minn., for the unauthorized sale of an AgriPro variety. All parties involved, including the seller, conditioner and buyer, are responsible for understanding the limitations of PVP laws.

"Seed certification ensures that high-quality seed of known genetic identity and purity is available to the agricultural industry," Sebesta says. "Illegal seed sales are detrimental to the entire seed industry."

The State Seed Department monitors seed sale activities, including advertising placed in newspapers and trade magazines. The regulatory program manager investigates suspicious advertising and takes appropriate action when warranted.

For more information about seed sales or a list of protected varieties, contact the State Seed Department or the USDA Plant Variety Protection Web site at http://www.ams.usda.gov/science/PVPO/PVPindex.htm .


Science wizards chosen for fair

- Kate Dubinski, The London Free Press, March 31, 2007, http://lfpress.ca/newsstand/CityandRegion/2007/03/31/3879267-sun.html

Two London students will attend a major science fair.

It's no average science fair.

It's a chance most young scientists dream of, and two of London's brightest teenagers are among the chosen few.

They're heading to Albuquerque, N.M., to present papers at the world's largest pre-university science fair.

Nikhita Singh, in Grade 10, and David Wang, in Grade 12, are among 16 Canadian high school student scientists selected to represent the country at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Both are students at Lucas secondary school.

Team Canada will be in New Mexico May 13 to 19, presenting their projects at the fair.

Singh's project is about an environmentally friendly delivery system for pesticides.

Wang -- who took top honours in botany at the international competition last year -- will present a project called "Bioproduction of pleiotropic Regulatory Cytokine for Oral Administration against Autoimmune Diseases."

In his winning entry last year, Wang used genetically modified plants to create protein to treat Type 1 diabetes.

[ed. note: This news is for real. See http://www.intelisef2007.org/ , http://www.biotechchallenge.ca/downloads/Regions/London/london_final.doc and http://www.ysf.ca/News_Releases/news03250701.aspx ]


Associated Press via KOLD News 13, April 1, 2007, http://www.kold.com/Global/story.asp?S=6308964

Britain's funniest April Fool's jokes

LONDON A television station in Britain has compiled a list of the funniest April Fool's jokes of all time. The comedy channel U-K-T-V G-2 asked three thousand viewers to choose their favorite spoof. The best joke came from the British supermarket chain, Tesco. In 2002, the company told the public that it had developed a genetically modified carrot that would start to whistle once fully cooked.

The Top Ten list also includes a story from the B-B-C that reported on a spaghetti harvest in Switzerland. The viewers were fooled into believing that spaghetti had started growing on trees.

[ed. note: If these imaginary items are amusing, what should we make of celery stalks which also serve as straws? Should they be called GMOs? See http://martini-lounge.blogspot.com/2007/01/celery-is-straw.html ]


Ireland to Host International Ag-Biotech Conference in 2008

- Press release, web posted March 28, 2007, http://www.teagasc.ie/news/2007/200703-28.htm

The Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference will take place in Ireland for the very first time in Cork City from 24 - 27th August 2008. The conference provides a forum for internationally renowned speakers to address the challenges facing the global biotechnology industry.

A contract securing this event for Ireland has just been signed by Professor Jimmy Burke, Head of Teagasc Crops Research Centre. The conference will run from 24th - 27th August 2008.

Chairman of the 2008 Ag-Biotech conference, Jimmy Burke said: "This conference offers a great platform to showcase our growing life sciences industries. Various technology Foresight reports for Ireland have identified biotechnology as one of the core technologies which our country and Irish industry must now embrace. These reports have also identified the agri-food sector as one that can benefit significantly from the tremendous potential offered by modern developments in biotechnology."

The conference is the largest agricultural biotech conference in the world (approx. 1000 participants are expected) and provides a unique opportunity for Irish academia and business sectors to discuss the issues, options and challenges being met by the biotechnology industry.

Jimmy Burke continued saying: "The four-day event will offer participants the opportunity to exchange ideas and hear from a distinguished line-up of internationally-acclaimed speakers. The conference combines the business of science with the latest discoveries and trends in research and technology development, and gives the research and business community opportunities to meet and exchange ideas. Sessions on the challenges and opportunities experienced in Australia, Europe, the US, China and Canada will bring a global perspective to the discussions."

By its nature, biotechnology has many applications for almost all sectors of the economy, particularly the agri-food, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and beverages sectors. It has also the potential to radically improve the entire food production chain and to transform the synthetic chemical manufacturing processes used by Irish-based pharmaceutical plants. The food industry in Ireland is already using biotechnological processes in a wide range of areas and this will increase over the next ten years.

"Environmental and biofuel applications of biotechnology are also very important. As a world class conference, ABIC 2008 is a must-attend event for the industry and those interested in it," concluded Prof Burke.

The venue for next year's Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) will be the University College Cork Campus in Cork City, Ireland.


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