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April 19, 2007


Agricultural Productivity in the U.S.; Comparison of GM and non-GM Forage and Grain Composition; Monsanto developing drought-tolerant seeds; Scientists unveil Australia's first cloned beef cow; Meat, milk from cloned cattle safe; EU experts fail to agree approval of GMO beet; Organics: A Poor Harvest for Wal-Mart; A High School Student Reports on GM Food Issue in Japan


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

* Agricultural Productivity in the U.S.
* Comparison of GM and non-GM Forage and Grain Composition
* Monsanto developing drought-tolerant seeds
* Scientists unveil Australia's first cloned beef cow
* Meat, milk from cloned cattle safe
* EU experts fail to agree approval of GMO beet
* Organics: A Poor Harvest for Wal-Mart
* A High School Student Reports on GM Food Issue in Japan


Agricultural Productivity in the United States Overview

- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, March 13, 2007, http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/AgProductivity/

Increased productivity is the main contributor to growth in U.S. agriculture. This data set provides estimates of productivity growth in the United States for 1948-2004, and estimates of productivity growth and relative productivity levels across States for 1960-1999. Note that this data series has been revised with this release (see the complete documentation for details, or go to the data tables).

The level of farm output in 2004 was 167 percent above its level in 1948 for an average annual rate of growth of 1.74 percent. Input use actually declined in aggregate (labor has been departing the sector and land use has declined slightly, while capital influx has been modest), so the positive growth in farm sector output is wholly due to productivity growth. This contrasts with a 3.7-percent annual output increase in the private nonfarm sector, with productivity growth accounting for a little more than a third of the economic growth. But what exactly is productivity?

Single-factor measures of productivity, such as corn production per acre (yield or land productivity) or per hour of labor (labor productivity) have been used for many years because the underlying data are often easily available. While useful, such measures can also mislead. For example, yields could increase simply because farmers are adding more of other inputs, such as chemicals, labor, or machinery, to their land base. USDA produces measures of total factor productivity, taking account of the use of all inputs to the production process.

Specifically, annual productivity growth is the difference between the growth of agricultural output, minus the growth of all inputs taken together (methods for combining inputs are described in the documentation). Productivity therefore measures changes in the efficiency with which inputs are transformed into outputs. USDA also produces State-level productivity measures - annual productivity growth rates as well as cross-State differences in levels of productivity, or differences in output per unit of combined inputs. Input measures are adjusted for improvements in input quality associated, for example, with improvements in the efficacy of chemicals and seeds, the demographics of the farm workforce, or innovations in machinery design. As a result, agricultural productivity is driven by innovations in onfarm tasks, changes in the organization and structure of the farm sector, research aimed at improvements in farm production, or random events like weather.


Major findings of the data include:

* Agricultural output did not grow during 1999-2002, and productivity showed no growth in 2000-02. But the return of good weather in 2003 and 2004 led to sharp increases in output and productivity, with productivity growing by 4.4 percent in 2003 and 6.0 percent in 2004. On average, then, productivity continued to grow rapidly in 1999-2004, by 2.8 percent per year (see table).

* U.S. agricultural productivity growth compares favorably to agricultural productivity growth in other industrialized countries, and to productivity growth in the overall U.S. economy.

* Every State exhibited a positive average annual rate of productivity growth over 1960-99. Average annual rates ranged from 2.6 percent for Michigan to 0.9 percent for Wyoming. Florida and Georgia had the highest levels of productivity in 1999 (see table).

USDA has been monitoring the agricultural industry's productivity for decades. In 1960, USDA was the first to introduce multifactor productivity measurement into the Federal statistical program. ERS produces total factor productivity measures for the aggregate farm sector from production accounts that distinguish multiple outputs and inputs, adjust for quality change in each input category, and recognize that some farm production (e.g., breeding livestock) is an investment good as well as an agricultural output. See the complete data documentation... [http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/AgProductivity/methods.htm ]


Comparison of the Forage and Grain Composition from Insect-Protected and Glyphosate-Tolerant MON 88017 Corn to Conventional Corn (Zea mays L.)

- Melinda C. McCann, William A. Trujillo, Susan G. Riordan, Roy Sorbet, Natalia N. Bogdanova, and Ravinder S. Sidhu, J. Agric. Food Chem., (ASAP Article 10.1021/jf063499a S0021-8561(06)03499-6), web posted April 17, 2007, http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/jafcau/asap/abs/jf063499a.html

Received for review December 4, 2006. Revised manuscript received March 23, 2007. Accepted March 26, 2007.


The next generation of biotechnology-derived products with the combined benefit of herbicide tolerance and insect protection (MON 88017) was developed to withstand feeding damage caused by the coleopteran pest corn rootworm and over-the-top applications of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicides. As a part of a larger safety and characterization assessment, MON 88017 was grown under field conditions at geographically diverse locations within the United States and Argentina during the 2002 and 2003-2004 field seasons, respectively, along with a near-isogenic control and other conventional corn hybrids for compositional assessment. Field trials were conducted using a randomized complete block design with three replication blocks at each site. Corn forage samples were harvested at the late dough/early dent stage, ground, and analyzed for the concentration of proximate constituents, fibers, and minerals. Samples of mature grain were harvested, ground, and analyzed for the concentration of proximate constituents, fiber, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, antinutrients, and secondary metabolites. The results showed that the forage and grain from MON 88017 are compositionally equivalent to forage and grain from control and conventional corn hybrids.

[Full text in html] [http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/asap.cgi/jafcau/asap/html/jf063499a.html ]

[Full text in pdf] [http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/asap.cgi/jafcau/asap/pdf/jf063499a.pdf ]


Monsanto developing drought-tolerant seeds

Dilip Kumar Jha, Business Standard (India), April 18, 2007, http://www.business-standard.com/common/storypage_c.php?leftnm=10&autono=281494

Monsanto, one of the world's leading multinational bioscience companies, is working on cold-tolerant, salt- tolerant and nitrogen-utilisation seeds for better fertility.

Besides, it has been attempting to commercialise the drought-tolerant seeds of corn and cotton, which are currently undergoing field trials. Also in its pipeline are health-friendly products, including those rich in Omega-3, that reduce the risk of heart attacks.

"The first drought-tolerant crops are being improved to tolerate insufficient amount of water," said Dr Harvey Glick, director, Scientific Affairs, Monsanto Company in an e-mailed response.

The drought-tolerant technology would lead to yield insurance, yield enhancement and cost savings on the irrigated land.

"Today, agriculture is, without question, the largest consumer of water. Hence, the first-generation trait won't be a one-size-fits-all approach. We're working on a family of traits to address the challenge of drought tolerance in farming operations," Glick said.

"Our first-generation Vistive product saw a stronger demand from farmers and food companies than we expected. Kellogg's December announcement about using our Vistive technology as a part of its initiative to lower trans-fats in its products is a further confirmation of the value of this technology. In 2007, we will be crossing some commercial milestones," he added.

In 2005, farmers in the US grew Vistive soybeans spread over 100,000 acres. In 2006, the cultivated area went up to 500,000 acres and this year, the company expects Vistive technology to be used over 1.5 million acres globally.

The company is targeting an expanded geographical range for soybeans, with over 3,000 farmers covering three maturity zones, thus enhancing the already reliable seed/dealer network. It is planning to be in more than 10 seed varieties, up from one.

The cost of research for developing new crops is expensive and hence, the Indian farmers would perhaps have to pay a premium due to company's estimated investment of around $100 million and a gestation period of about 10 years.


Scientists unveil Australia's first cloned beef cow

- ABC News (Australia), April 17, 2007, http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200704/s1898813.htm

Mini the brahman cow was born following a cloning procedure (ABC TV)

In an Australian first, scientists have cloned a beef cow on a central Queensland property.

The process of cloning "Mini" the brahman cost her owners around $30,000 and was cloned because a prized stud cow became too old to breed.

Dr Richard Fry from Clone International says the process is quite difficult with a success rate of about one in 10.

"There are problems with the genetics because if we don't completely rub off the memory of the cell that we've used then you get the incorrect expression of genes," he said.

"You don't get embryo forming and they won't result in pregnancy."

But Dr Fry says the success rate for cloning cattle represents a big improvement since Dolly the sheep was first cloned in Scotland in 1996.

"I think with Dolly it was a one in 277 to result in Dolly, so with cattle it has progressed a long way," he said. "At one in 10 cattle are one of the easiest to clone compared with other species.

"The first horse to be cloned was about one-in-300 transfers to get that foal."

Chris Fenech from the Fenech Brahman Cattle Company says the cow was cloned from one of the family's prized stud cows.

"Last year, we sold her great-grandson for $90,000, her grand-daughter for [an] Australian record of $60,000," he said.

"She's just been a really powerful breeder for us."


Meat, milk from cloned cattle safe

- Hindustan Times, April 19, 2007, http://www.hindustantimes.com/Redir.aspx?ID=2c4ea28f-08e5-451f-96d8-329bbd4e47c3&ParentID=3518c4dc-3a7d-449c-9d28-960f7d11f222

Meat and milk from cloned bulls and cows meets industry standards and beef and milk from cloned cattle are safe for human consumption, researchers have said.

In the study, researchers from the University of Connecticut in the US and the Kagoshima Prefectural Cattle Breeding Development Institute in Japan cloned a Japanese black beef bull and Holstein dairy cow using somatic cell nuclear transfer, the same technique used to clone the sheep Dolly in year 1996, says Xinhua.

They compared the meat and milk from the clones to that of animals of similar age, genetics, and breed created through natural reproduction. Analysis of protein, fat, and other variables routinely assessed by the dairy industry revealed no significant differences in the milk.

"In this study, we conducted extensive comparisons of the composition of milk and meat from somatic cloned animals to those from naturally reproduced comparator animals," said Xiangzhong Yang who led the study.

"We found no significant differences between clones and their controls, and all parameters examined for the clones in this study were within the normal range of beef and dairy products approved for human consumption."

There has been much debate about whether it is safe to eat cloned livestock and their offspring. US federal regulators began looking at cloned food safety four years ago as it became clear that the cloning technique that led to the 1996 birth of Dolly the sheep had commercial potential.

The new study examined more than 100 meat quality criteria, of which 90 percent showed no noteworthy variations. However, eight variables related to the amount of fat and fatty acids in the meat were significantly higher in the meat from the clones, but the researchers said these were within beef industry standards.

"The data generated from our match-controlled experiments provide new science-based information desired by regulatory agencies to address public concerns about the safety of meat and milk from somatic animal clones," Yang noted.

"Information on the composition of meat and milk from somatic clones of food animals is extremely limited and highly desired."

Providing a cautionary note, Yang said that this study was conducted with a relatively small number of diary and beef clones and the clones of each breed were derived from a single genetic source.

"The experiments presented here are a pilot study to provide guidelines for more conclusive studies with larger numbers of clones from different genetic backgrounds, in order to further increase the consumers' confidence concerning product safety of somatic cloned food animals," he said.


EU experts fail to agree approval of GMO beet

- Jeremy Smith (Reuters) via Scientific American, April 19, 2007, http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?alias=eu-experts-fail-to-agree&chanId=sa003&modsrc=reuters

BRUSSELS - EU biotech experts failed on Thursday to agree on approving an application for genetically modified (GMO) sugar beet, again exposing the bloc's deep-seated rift on biotech foods, the European Commission said on Thursday.

The sugar beet, called H7-1, was developed jointly by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto and German plant breeding company KWS SAAT AG to resist glyphosate-containing herbicides.

The application is for use in food and animal feed produced from the beet, for example sugar, syrup, dried pulp and molasses. The modified sugar beet would not be for cultivation.

Experts representing the EU's 27 national governments failed to reach the consensus needed in the EU weighted voting system either to approve or reject the application. Under EU law, the paperwork now goes to EU ministers for a final decision.

If the ministers fail to take a decision within three months, then the Commission -- the EU's executive arm -- usually issues its own authorization under a legal default process.

Since the EU's six-year unofficial moratorium on approving new GMO products was lifted in 2004, the Commission has authorized a string of GMOs in this way, outraging green groups.

For many years, EU countries have not been able to secure the majority needed to vote through a new GMO approval. They last agreed to authorize a new GMO product in 1998.

European consumers are well known for their wariness towards GMO foods but the biotech industry insists its products are safe and no different to conventional foods.


The national experts also discussed two other GMO applications, both for maize hybrids. But there was no conclusion and the debate would resume at their next meeting scheduled for May 10 and 11, the Commission said in a statement.

The first maize hybrid, known as MON810/NK603, was submitted for EU approval by Monsanto and is designed to resist certain insects and also glyphosate -- the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.

The second GMO maize, a hybrid known as 1507/NK603, has been developed to resist certain field pests like the European corn borer, and also the herbicides glufosinate and glyphosate. It is made by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of DuPont Co., and Dow AgroSciences unit Mycogen Seeds.


Organics: A Poor Harvest for Wal-Mart

- Pallavi Gogoi, Business Week, April 12, 2007, http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/apr2007/db20070412_005673.htm?chan=search

After the retailing giant laid out ambitious plans to offer organic food last year, farmers say it's backing off

Last fall, Peter Ricker got an order from Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) for organic apples that was the biggest he'd ever seen. "I'm talking trailer truckloads," says the 34-year-old, eighth-generation apple farmer in Maine. Ricker had heard of the giant retailer's push into organics, and he thought the order could be the beginning of a surge in demand. But that wasn't the case. While most retailers place orders with Ricker Hill Orchards once a week, Wal-Mart never came back.

He's hardly alone. A number of organic farmers across the country say that Wal-Mart has backed off of aggressive plans to offer more organic foods. After placing large orders for organic apples and juices last year, the retailer is cutting back or stopping orders altogether. Wade Groetsch, president at the Florida juice producer Blue Lake Citrus Products, says he stopped shipping his organic orange-tangerine blend to Wal-Mart after a few months. "The sales there just weren't enough to justify our costs of packing and shipping," he says.

Scaled-Back Ambitions

A year ago last March Wal-Mart grabbed headlines by announcing its organic push. Stephen Quinn, a top marketing executive, told investors at a Bear Stearns (BSC) conference that the company would double the number of organic food items in its stores to 400 and offer them "at the Wal-Mart price" (see BusinessWeek.com, 3/29/06, "Wal-Mart's Organic Offensive"). But now Karen Burk, a spokeswoman for the company, says that the majority of Wal-Mart stores are offering between 100 and 200 organic food items. She says the company does not have a target, at least not a public one, of stocking 400 organic items in the average store.

Burk denies that this means the company has fallen short of its goals. She said Quinn had been misinterpreted and hadn't meant to suggest that Wal-Mart stores would actually carry 400 organic items. He meant that the company would make as many as 400 organic items available to store managers; if they choose to stock only 25% to 50% of those items, it is simply a reflection of local demand. "It has always been our goal for our locations to be 'stores of the community,'" she wrote in an e-mail.

Burk said that in some cases, stores have doubled the number of organic products that they offer. She said that there are Wal-Mart stores that do stock roughly 400 organic items, including locations in Rogers, Ark., Rockwall, Tex., and Plano, Tex. "We are continuing to see a demand by many of our customers for organic alternatives and will tailor each store's assortment to meet the demand," she wrote.

High-End Strategy Flops

Wal-Mart has been struggling to move upscale in a number of product categories. Last year, Wal-Mart found through internal research that it had high-income customers, with incomes of more than $75,000, in its stores shopping for staples like milk and detergent, and it set out to sell them more high-end merchandise. Besides its organic push, the company introduced a new apparel line called Metro 7 and started stocking higher-end bedding. But Chief Executive Lee Scott concedes that the company has struggled to persuade customers that Wal-Mart can mean high-quality, rather than simply low price. "I think we went too far too fast," he said (see BusinessWeek.com, 3/30/07, "Wal-Mart: 'On the Side of the Angels'").

In the case of organic foods, there also may be a disconnect between Wal-Mart's brand and the products it hopes to sell. The retailer's existing customers tend to be very price-conscious and may not be willing to pay a premium for organic foods. On the other hand, consumers who go to stores like Whole Foods Market (WFMI) or Wild Oats Markets (OATS) are less price-sensitive and may not be lured to Wal-Mart with low prices. "The Whole Foods customer is walking in there to buy organic and is more concerned about how the fruit was farmed," says apple farmer Ricker, "but the Wal-Mart customer is used to shopping with a calculator."

Others in the organic movement are skeptical that Wal-Mart will be able to gain much traction in the business. "When Wal-Mart found that people are buying organics, they decided to get into that too and sell it for just 10% over the regular foods," says Marty Mesh, executive director of the Florida Certified Organic Growers & Consumers, a nonprofit organization in Gainesville, Fla., which provides an Organic Certification program. "Problem is, the same people didn't all of a sudden say, 'I can get it cheaper at Wal-Mart,' and drive across town to get it."

Incompatible Business Models

There may be problems with supply as well as demand. Wal-Mart is known for its hardball tactics with suppliers, driving costs as low as possible and regularly switching suppliers to get the best price. That kind of attitude can alienate farmers, especially organic ones, who tend to plan their crops years ahead of time. They need to keep land pesticide-free for four years to win organic certification. "Is organic really compatible with the Wal-Mart approach? We're finding out that it's not," says Jim Riddle, organic outreach coordinator and guest lecturer at the University of Minnesota.

Consider the case of Organic Valley Family of Farms in La Farge, Wis., one of the country's largest cooperatives of organic farmers. When demand for organic milk soared two years ago, rival Horizon Organic Dairy offered to sell to Wal-Mart for 15% below Organic Valley's price. Wal-Mart expected a similar reduction from Organic Valley, but instead the cooperative pulled out. "Looking for ever-lower costs comes at a real cost to sustainability," says George Siemon, Organic Valley's chief executive. "To have consistent supply, you have to change the paradigm of thinking and think about long-term partnerships."

Farmers like Ricker are now dealing with the fallout from Wal-Mart's faltering demand. He has decided to pare back his organic apple farm, from 150 acres to 120 acres. He says organics are just tough to grow. Without pesticides, insects and disease attack his McIntosh, Gala, and Honeycrisp apples. Production per acre dropped about 30% when he switched from regular farming methods 10 years ago. Now he plans to switch back. "The grocery stores want the perfect, blemish-free apple," he says, "and that's difficult to produce."


A High School Student Reports on GM Food Issue in Japan

- Irene Lee, irenion.at.gmail.com

I am a high school student writing from Japan. I have been interested in genetics and its application to daily life ever since one particular semester in a high school biology class.For some time, I have been reading out-of-class materials from libraries and online sources for my own interest.

I am currently working on a non-official advocacy promoting the technology of genetically modified foods for a certain class project. During my search, I fortunately came across your website, AgBioWorld, and was very inspired by the resources I found there.

My project, too,centers on the theme of "enhancing societal awareness of food biotechnology issues." My project has been going very smoothly--and I do owe much information I rely on to the wealth of resources from the AgBioWorld website and newsletter.

A recent task directly involved proposing possible actions for 'educating the public': on the science behind recombinant DNA, and how to counter misconceptions that GM foods are inherently more threatening to human health and the environment. Asserting that a dividing line between 'natural' and 'unnatural' food production activities cannot be drawn was key to my argument for an advocacy speech--and, again, I found insights from AgBioWorld's resources (especially your article titled "Genetically Modified Foods Are Nothing New") a tremendous help.

I find your optimism in a 'proactive' global scientific community encouraging, and actually relevant to my own surrounding. I say this because--though this is simply a personal opinion--Japan has not really had enough open public debates backed by Japanese scientists. I simply feel that here, the GM food controversy is not much of a 'debate'; rather, it seems to be outright 'No.'

I confess that I am not up to date with Japan's policies or the 'big picture' of the current situation, both within Japan and abroad. But at least, the continual impression I receive is "Say NO! to GMO." (The slogan happens to be the ecology theme for one of Waseda University's student organizations.)

These are just some thoughts that keep coming up as I continue to surf the net, receive GM news through e-mails. The local community's latest obsession seems to be GM soybeans, because every February a traditional Japanese Bean-Throwing Festival (we call "Setsubun," "arrival of spring") involves a celebration of a year's good harvest. This year's celebration was implicitly linked to promoting domestically produced, 'natural' soybeans--and hence, a campaign against GM soybeans and food biotechnology in general.

In my project paper, I argue for the view that agricultural biotechnology is something we have so much to gain from--and I sincerely believe so. At the same time, I just cannot imagine how all this will change, especially in a relatively conservative Japanese culture, with a natural preference for, well, the 'natural.'

Will the value of GM foods--even with 'public education,' even with the backup of sound scientific reasoning and justifications of their safety--overcome cultural obstacles and gain people's acceptance? I'm beginning to also read that even in developing regions that could benefit greatly from adopting GM crops, local sentiments against globalization are tied with people's resistance against introducing GM crops. I wonder, how would the science community find an approach to reach out to these people?

I'm always astounded that these are the sort of obstacles that real-world advocators and specialists like you have to confront. What exactly do think is important to convey to the media and consumers worldwide? And what course of action would you urge amongst the general public--perhaps, in particular, science students--to enhance societal awareness of food biotechnology?

Finally, thank you forproviding such excellent online resources. I continually support your work, and that of AgBioWorld Foundation. I apologize for running long.

Yours Truly,



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