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April 7, 2007


Agri office eyes wider biotech work; U.S., E.U. may begin negotiations on implementing WTO biotech ruling; Antibiotic tobacco plants a possibility


Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org April 7, 2007

* Agri office eyes wider biotech work
* U.S., E.U. may begin negotiations on implementing WTO biotech ruling
* Antibiotic tobacco plants a possibility


Agri office eyes wider biotech work

- Sun Star (Davao), April 8, 2007, http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/dav/2007/04/08/bus/agri.office.eyes.wider.biotech.work.html

AS PART of the government's poverty eradication program with particular focus on the countryside, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is eyeing to expand its biotechnology network in the Philippines.

DA Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning Josyline Javelosa said the plan is to maximize the benefits of the agricultural innovations, with focus on 10 of the poorest provinces in the Philippines.

Javelosa delivered the keynote address on behalf of Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap during the 1st Biotechnology Information and Organization Network (BIONet) National Congress at the Balay Kalinaw, University of the Philippines in Diliman last Monday where she lauded members of BIONets.

"I am, indeed, delighted to know that the agricultural sector has become conscious of its potent role in national development and aware that the unity of producers, academe, scientific community, private sector and government would bring to fruition our collective desire to promote biotechnology," she said.

According to Javelosa, biotechnology has become a significant factor in increasing farmers incomes through the wider propagation of new crop varieties developed through the use of genetic engineering, tissue culture and cross-breeding which translate into higher yields, better-tasting and nutritious food, thus assuring higher incomes for direct producers.

"I take this opportunity to commend the officials behind the promotion of BIONet as the magnet for Bio-Commerce Centers nationwide, all of which apply the benefits of biotechnology and encourage trading and the wider dissemination of better crops, fruits and other agricultural products," Javelosa added.

Javelosa said side by side with the scientific work is the task of organizing more farmers to benefit from the products of biotechnology, a line of work that requires a lot of convincing and arguing to encourage more producers to accept the legitimacy, viability and necessity of biotechnology products.

"As we embark on consolidating the gains of biotechnology in the Philippines, we are now compelled to work on maximizing the benefits of the agricultural innovations, and I must hasten to add that the new policy is to expand the network where it is needed most, particularly in the 10 poorest provinces in the country, Javelosa explained.

She added BIONet has already convinced a number of local government units (LGUs) to organize themselves as part of the network.

She stressed many farmers and NGOs are convinced that biotechnology works for their benefit and they have now shaken off their fear of the beast that was misunderstood biotechnology.

"To me, what would work best for the interest of biotechnology is our openness to change and our patriotic attitude since we all know that in a rapidly changing world, we have to arm ourselves with the resources needed to compete, and lead, in certain segments of industry and agriculture," Javelosa said.

She added BIONets have become sharp as a bayonet in cutting through the web of fear and trembling, of ignorance and superstition and of prejudice and dogmatism.

Thus far, the biotechnology revolution has found its haven in Negros Oriental, in Laguna, Southern Luzon, Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Caraga region, Mindoro, Bulacan, the two Lanao provinces, Davao, and Nueva Vizcaya.


U.S., E.U. may begin negotiations on implementing WTO biotech ruling

- Erica Lee Nelson, Inside U.S. Trade, vol. 25 no. 14, April 6, 2007, http://wtonewsstand.com/ (subscribers only)

The U.S. and the European Union may begin negotiations to implement a ruling of the World Trade Organization (WTO) against the EU's method of handling biotechnology applications.

A U.S. trade official this week said the U.S. is still in the process of trying to assess "the seriousness of [EU] intentions," after the two sides discussed ways to "normalize trade in biotech" at a February meeting called at the EU's initiative.

USTR is currently deliberating how to proceed with domestic U.S. stakeholders and said it expected to decide whether it will continue negotiations in a week's time, the official said. Industry sources said that there is broad support among the U.S. biotechnology industry that the negotiations should move forward, as they may prove more fruitful than continued WTO litigation.

The USTR official spoke in an April 2 press conference announcing the release of the 2007 National Trade Estimates (NTE), during which another official stated that market access for U.S. biotechnology products and beef would be agricultural priorities for USTR in the coming year.

At issue in the discussions is how to deal with the finding by a WTO dispute settlement panel, which ruled last year against the EU's handling of biotechnology applications in two ways. It said the EU violated the procedural obligations for implementing decisions under the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures when it maintained a de facto moratorium for four years ending in August 2003, and violated the substantive obligations of the agreement with scientifically unjustified bans on GMOs already approved by EU authorities.

The Administration is under pressure from members of Congress to ensure that victory in the WTO case will translate into actual market access (Inside US Trade, Nov. 17, 2006). The EU has proposed an implementation deadline of 12 months in the WTO process, an EU source said.

Industry sources say that U.S. industry demands include the creation of a functioning EU biotech authorization process that will restart trade, and resolving the issue of "legacy events." This refers to GMOs that had been caught up in the EU's moratorium, are no longer commercially grown, but are still present in trace amounts in current grain supplies.

The European Commission is in the process of drafting measures for legacy events, and has spoken with EU stakeholders on the subject, an EU source said. A U.S. industry source said that the Commission has proposed legacy event regulations on five products to its standing committee on the food chain and animal health that sets a 0.9 percent GMO content as an acceptable threshold. That may be sufficient for some products with legacy issues, the source said, but not for others.

The U.S. biotechnology industry is also interested in the applications for specific GMO corn and canola products that are still pending before EU authorities, one industry source said. The USTR official said the legacy issues and pending product approvals were discussed during the February meeting. The EU's regulations on traceability and labeling have not been under discussion, sources said.

For its part, the EU discussed how to improve the GMO product approval process and offered to determine what would constitute "undue delays" in product approval, an EU source said. In these discussions, there is no mention of a specific deadline for approval because this is not compatible with normal regulatory processes, a U.S. industry source said.

The EC has been talking with the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) on "alleged delays" in its approval process, but these changes would not alter any of the legal criteria of EFSA's GMO approval process, the EU source said. Also under discussion is a possible boost in its resources, according to the EU source.

In addition, the Commission is working with EFSA to ensure more of a member state role in the approval process (Inside U.S. Trade, April 21, 2006). EU sources have implied that improved processes would lead to fewer objections from the member states on GMO approvals.

In the meeting with the U.S., EU officials also pledged their determination to get rid of existing member state bans, he said. This may ultimately involve a commission challenge of member state bans in the European Court of Justice, but he emphasized that the Commission has made no decision on how to proceed, the EU source said.

A European environmental NGO source said that this would be difficult to do because there are many bans in place and they are based on a number of different laws. To effectively remove all impediments, the EC would have to take nearly all member states to the European Court of Justice, the source said.

A U.S. industry source said that an effective way for the U.S., Canada and Argentina to fight the member state bans is to pressure them directly.

The 2007 NTE highlights GMO trade barriers in Europe. "While the European Commission granted approval for a limited number of biotechnology products under its legislative authority, the United States considers that the EU continues to lack a predictable, workable process for approving these products in a way that reflects scientific, rather than political factors," the report says.

The NTE also detailed barriers to GMO products or crops in specific countries, highlighting Austria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland and Romania.


Antibiotic tobacco plants a possibility

Kendra Perry, Gauntlet News (University of Calgary), April 05, 2007, http://gauntlet.ucalgary.ca/story/11298

Antibiotics may soon be produced by tobacco plants if the Canadian government approves controversial molecular farming technology.

Plant molecular farming uses plants in agriculture to produce products other than food, feed or fibre. Certain plants can be genetically modified to act as 'factories,' manufacturing pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines, bioplastics and industrial chemicals.

University of Calgary communication and culture professor Dr. Edna Einsiedel led a public consultation between Oct. 2006 and Feb. 2007, allowing Canadians to offer input regarding the use of the technology. The consultation involved both online and face-to-face aspects.

"The consultation was held nationwide in French and English," said Einsiedel. "Four hundred people were interviewed regarding their views on the technology."

The consultation was limited to "involved Canadians," selected based on their voting habits, attention to news and participation in civic organizations, said Einsiedel.

"We were looking for people who have high levels of attention to public affairs," she said.

Twelve panelists participated in the face-to-face aspect and composed a report which was submitted to Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Panelists spent two weekends in Calgary learning about plant molecular farming.

"The first weekend panelists attended talks from experts, regulators, scientists, ecologists and environmental organizations," said Einsiedel. "The second weekend was spent in deliberations regarding the information and writing the report."

The report supported the use of the technology, but warned the government to proceed with caution due to the risks involved in plant molecular farming. The panelists expressed concerns over accidental contamination of the food chain, genetic contamination, harm to domestic and wild animals as well as soil and water contamination.

"Tight mitigation is needed for this technology to be successful," said Einsiedel. "Plants should never be grown in the open. They need to be tightly controlled in confinement to reduce the risks."

Despite the risks, the panelists recognized the benefits of using the technology.

"Plant molecular farming may be a cheaper way of producing things," said Einsiedel. "This may have major benefits for people in developing countries who lack the resources for normal production of life-saving vaccines."

Though molecular farming has not been approved in Canada for commercial field production, the technology is currently used in the U.S. and parts of Europe.


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