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April 22, 2007


Israeli scientists enhance food; Island Matters; Organic farming is a fraud; Ban spurs growth of probiotics; Will proposed law mean farmer fratricide?; WDR2008: Comment of Ingo Potrykus


Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org April 22, 2007

* Israeli scientists enhance food
* Island Matters
* Organic farming is a fraud
* Ban spurs growth of probiotics
* Will proposed law mean farmer fratricide?
* WDR2008: Comment of Ingo Potrykus


A sweet smell - Israeli scientists enhance food with the scent of flowers

- Nicky Blackburn, Israel21C, April 22, 2007, http://www.israel21c.org/bin/en.jsp?enDispWho=Articles%5El1627&enPage=BlankPage&enDisplay=view&enDispWhat=object&enVersion=0&enZone=Technology

Prof. Alexander Vainstein is proud of his greenhouses. Located at the Hebrew University's Robert H. Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture in Rehovot, these greenhouses offer visitors both a delight to the senses, and a trip to a futuristic world where flowers emerge in different colors, with different scents, and a whole new genetic make-up designed to enhance and improve the flower stock.

"You'll see types of flowers in our greenhouses that do not exist anywhere else in the world," says Vainstein, the head of the institute, with satisfaction. "People are stunned at what we are doing here. We have petunias, which traditionally don't have a smell, giving off such a strong perfume that it overpowers you as you walk through the greenhouse doors."

The greenhouses are only a small part of Vainstein's work, however. Back in the lab, he and other researchers from the Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences have discovered how to insert the scent of flowers into different foods, how to intensify the smell of perfumes and creams, and how to create a natural scent with nothing more than a Petri dish.

The developments, which use the same genetic engineering techniques developed in the human genome project to enhance the shape, color and smell of flowers, have generated a great deal of interest from the chemical, food and flower industries, which are not only following developments, but often actively funding the work.

Vainstein, a molecular biologist, began studying the molecular mechanism of scent compounds in flowers out of curiosity. "Until recently, people knew very little about the genetic mechanism of scent production," he explained to ISRAEL21c. "We just wanted to understand how it works. Smell is a very volatile thing. Flowers smell differently at different times of the day, it depends if it's hot or cold, or whether the flower is young and old. Some plants give off strong scents, while others you have to crush before you can smell them."

Once the team isolated and deciphered the composition of genes and proteins operating in the petals of roses and carnations, they began to genetically engineer the plants to alter scent production. Roses, for example, give off a strong and lovely scent, and have major volatile scent compounds such as germacrene D. Vainstein took the gene responsible for this compound in roses, and inserted it into different plant species such as petunias and carnations.

"This means that the petunia now produces scent compounds found normally in roses. It's not that the petunias now smell of roses, but they do give off a much stronger scent than before," says Vainstein. "They smell differently. It creates a new pallet. Take a lemon and a rose, for example, they have a lot of similar scent compounds, but it's the small differences that make all the difference."

In another successful project, the researchers took a gene from a small aromatic plant that grows in California and introduced it to the carnation plant, which now produces the same aromatic compound as the California plant. At the same time, they've also discovered how to mute scent in flowers, such as gypsophelia (baby's breath) - a flower often favored by florists in bouquets - which have an unpleasant odor.

The possibilities for the plant breeding industry are exciting. The flower industry is worth $20.8 billion in 2006 in the US alone, and more than $100 billion worldwide. Many flowers sold by florists today have lost their smell. Vainstein's research promises to be able not only to regenerate that smell in flowers like roses, but also to create entirely new scents in other flowers.

What interests the chemical and food industries, however, is that the researchers have also discovered a way to introduce these volatile scent compounds into other organisms, such as yeast - which has many similarities to plants - to create a bioreactor to product these natural compounds.

"In Bulgaria the economy is built heavily on rose oil which they produce from roses grown over large areas, but it's a very long and complicated process to create this oil," said Vainstein. "We can produce the same scent compounds using a yeast bioreactor and we do it in a Petri dish. We use a tiny amount of space. A few shelves can hold row after row of Petri dishes, and there is no disease, no worries about weather or pests, and a drastic reduction in manpower costs. The value for the perfume industry is immense."

Using yeast bioreactors, flower scent compounds can also be introduced to foods such as bread, or added to wine as it is prepared. Rose flavored bread, perhaps, or a white wine with a hint of carnation. Today food manufacturers often resort to using synthetic scent compounds in foods, but Vainstein's work, which has been patented, will enable them to create and use natural compounds.

Rose is already a popular flavor in many parts of the world. The Scandinavians eat rose soup, and many other countries enjoy rose jam. "The food industry is very interested in the potential of this," says Vainstein. "Smell is not only what you smell with your nose, but also what you taste. Though eating foods you also smell them. The aroma comes from inside your mouth to your nose passage."

Vainstein is working with a number of international companies based in the US, the UK and Israel and has carried out commercial trials. He declines to give details, however, because of the competitive nature of the industries he works with. "There are a number of experiments and pilot trials going on, and we are talking to many companies about many different possibilities but much of this work is unpublished and we are not allowed to talk about it," he asserts, adding that contracts are likely in the future.

Aside from scent, Vainstein's team of 14 professors and students is also making progress in color enhancement, introducing new colors to flowers - like gypsophila - that were traditionally white. The University has already developed a number of strains of carnations in colors such as cream and pale green, and work is progressing on color enhancement of roses and gypsophila.

These transgenic flowers are being developed in only three or four locations around the world, and the Hebrew University is the only research lab in the world that focuses on both scent and color. "Most labs work with only color or scent, we work with both," says Vainstein.

In future, it will be possible to create "designer flowers" to meet specific requests - to match the color of one's clothes, eyes or furniture, for example, or with a specific smell.

The researchers are also working on developing plants with improved disease resistance, and plants that make more roots, creating more flowers as a result. "There are various directions of research, but all of them are concerned with molecular breeding," he says.

Israel is one of the biggest flower-growing nations in the world, alongside the Netherlands, Colombia, and Kenya. The Hebrew University's Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences has played a central role in the development of flower growing in Israel over the years. The faculty has been a partner in the development of some 40% of the flowers now found in the market.

Vainstein's team is now exploring new avenues of research. "In Israel we have a lot of sea water, we want to see if we can use it to grow things, not necessarily flowers, but a lot of different things," says Vainstein. "It's just like with scent, we start researching something just because we are curious. If we later see applications for the knowledge we create, then that's great."


Island Matters

- Sarah Styan, Star Bulletin (Hawaii), April 22, 2007, http://starbulletin.com/2007/04/22/editorial/commentary3.html

Genetically engineered crops are safe and socially responsible

THE Star-Bulletin rightly called for the governor to seek expert advice to help determine the future of crop biotechnology in Hawaii "Genetically modified crops need scrutiny," Our Opinion, April 6). A gathering of diverse representation from health, agriculture and other sciences would confirm that the adoption of crop biotechnology is socially responsible, beneficial to everyone and, above all, safe.

Unfortunately, the Star-Bulletin's opinion implied the contrary when it incorrectly stated that there is no universal agreement on the claim that "genetically modified products are any different from conventional crops." Apparently the Star-Bulletin overlooked the huge body of knowledge confirming that biotech crops are substantially equivalent to traditional crops.

More than 30 regulatory agencies in 21 countries plus prominent scientific authorities in the United States and throughout the world have stated that biotech crops are as safe as conventional crops. These include the American Medical Association, American College of Nutrition, American Farm Bureau, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, National Academy of Sciences of the United States and seven other nations, French Academy of Medicine, Royal Society representing scientists of the United Kingdom and the World Health Organization, to name a few.

Even a report by the historically skeptical European Commission has come out in favor of biotech crops. Its 2001 report on the safety of plant biotech (summarizing 15 years of research by 400 scientific teams) states, "Research on GM plants and derived products so far developed and marketed, following usual risk assessment procedures, has not shown any new risks on human health or the environment ... indeed, the use of more precise technology and greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods."

The World Health Organization's support of biotech crops is well documented and could not be clearer. As stated on its biotech Web site, "GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. ... No allergic effects have been found relative to GM foods currently on the market. And ... no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved."

Furthermore, WHO stated that "GM foods can increase crop yield, food quality and the diversity of foods which can be grown in a given area. This in turn can lead to better health and nutrition, which can then help to raise health and living standards."

WHO says safety studies must continue, but that's expected of any new food crop being introduced into the market -- conventional or otherwise.

Similarly, the National Academy of Sciences said, "To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population."

Therefore, the Star-Bulletin's inference that crop biotechnology is unsafe is not supported by the prevailing scientific data and basic facts.

It is true that limited, "low risk" errors have occurred, which have been or are in the process of being resolved. However, court rulings confirm that at no point has human health and safety been at risk. The biotech safety record shows the regulatory system is working. It will continually improve as policies and procedures evolve to keep pace with advancements in the technology.

Dissenting opinions are commonplace in all arenas of science. However, the vast majority of scientists draw their conclusions by taking into account the weight of evidence and the prevailing view of experts -- whose research shows that biotech crops are safe as food and feed, and safe for the environment.

The most telling fact is that during the 12 years that biotech crops have been commercially grown, people have consumed more than a trillion servings of food containing biotech ingredients. During this time there has not been one single documented case of an ecosystem being disrupted or a person made ill by these foods -- in Hawaii or anywhere in the world.

This safety record reflects well on industry's commitment to health and safety, as well as the coordinated regulation by the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Crop biotechnology helps reduce or eliminate the application of crop protection chemicals and increases the productivity of our farmlands and forests. New crops currently in development will help improve nutrition and human health. Those who adopt a zero tolerance attitude toward genetic modification threaten to deny everyone these benefits by playing on fear of the unknown and fear of change despite the huge body of knowledge that supports it.

The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association supports the Star-Bulletin's call for a gathering of experts to provide Gov. Linda Lingle with the criteria to formulate public policy. Meanwhile, the public debate on Hawaii's future for crop biotechnology is best served when the news media ensures accuracy and balance in opinions and news reports.

Sarah Styan is a research scientist at Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc.'s research center in Waimea. The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association is an industry association representing member seed producers.


Organic farming is a fraud

- Doyle Lentz, The Forum, April 22, 2007, http://www.in-forum.com/Opinion/articles/163496

Earth Day is today, and you can bet there'll be claims that organic crops are somehow "better" for planet Earth than conventional or biotech crops. But it's the biggest misperception in agriculture.

Organic farming isn't pesticide free, as consumers are led to believe. A number of synthetic substances are allowed for use in organic crop production, including isopropanol, chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, boric acid, sulfur and streptomycin. Among the dozens of other nonorganic substances allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as "organic" or "made with organic" include various acids, animal enzymes, glucono delta-lactone (whatever that is), wood resin, cellulose, glyceride and kelp.

E. coli is often linked to livestock manure, a primary source of fertilizer for organic crops, although it should be pointed out that manure is used in the production of conventionally produced crops as well, and that E. coli can originate from other sources besides manure. However, most producers of conventional and biotech crops use manufactured or synthetic fertilizer, and as Princeton molecular biologist Lee Silver puts it, "Synthetic fertilizer does not contain bacteria of any kind - period. So synthetic fertilizer cannot cause food poisoning - no need to worry if it's been processed properly."

Organic farmers generally rely on conventional tillage for weed control, a practice universally understood to increase soil and water erosion and the loss of organic matter, which is the key to soil productivity.

Because organic crops do not yield as well as conventional or biotech crops, organic production requires more land. Alex Avery, in his must-read book "The Truth About Organic Foods" writes that "organic farming, on a large scale, poses the single greatest threat to natural ecosystems and biodiversity in human history." Why? Because "organic only" would force us to clear-cut, graze, plow, and farm larger areas of the earth's remaining wildlife habitat due to lower yields.

Avery points out in his book that biotechnology has the power to improve just about every aspect of farming, and has already done so in many ways. Then why is there such intense organic opposition to, and misrepresentation about, biotech crops? Avery speculates that it's competition. "Biotechnology offers a more cost effective way to achieve the lower pesticide use and more eco-friendly farming systems claimed by organic farmers and desired by consumers," he writes. "In short, biotechnology represents a direct threat to organic agriculture's current monopoly on eco-conscious consumers and the illusions of super safety."

If organic farmers can profit from consumers who want organic produce, more power to them. But don't do so on false pretenses and by misrepresenting and denigrating the safety and sustainability of conventional and biotech crops. Truth is, biotechnology offers the best opportunity to enhance soil, water and environmental quality than any farm production technology in history.


Lentz, who farms near Rolla, N.D., serves on the board of Growers for Biotechnology, whose purpose is to promote and facilitate the research, development and acceptance of biotechnology in agriculture.

Email at lentz+at+utma.com


AGP ban spurs growth of the probiotics market

- PigProgress.net, April 20, 2007, http://www.pigprogress.net/ts_pi/pigprogress.portal/enc/_nfpb/true/tspi_portlet_news_singleeditorschoice1_1_actionOverride/___2Fportlets___2Fts___2Fge___2Fnews_singleeditorschoice1___2Fcontent___2FshowDetailsList/_windowLabel/tspi_portlet_news_singleeditorschoice1_1/tspi_portlet_news_singleeditorschoice1_1id/14406/_desktopLabel/pigprogress/_pageLabel/tsge_page_home_content/index.html

The EU ban and possible ban on AGPs in the United States is expected to boost the growth potential of the European animal feed probiotics market in the next five years, according to a new report.

Probiotics represent one of the most promising alternatives to antimicrobials developed in recent years to protect animal health and increase the efficiency of nutrient utilisation. Probiotics have been demonstrated to have an equivalent efficacy to synthetic antimicrobial growth promoters (AGP), which were previously used as prophylactics to suppress growth and activity in all gut microflora species, before they were banned completely in Europe in January 2006.

Growth in monogastric feed market

In particular, the antimicrobial ban has left the EU monogastric animal feed industry at a financial disadvantage, as it competes with countries outside the EU that can still use in-feed antimicrobials to protect against diseases such as scour and necrotic enteritis. Accordingly, the animal feed probiotics market is poised for growth. In monogastric animals especially, the use of probiotics can help to reduce the significant increase in therapeutic antimicrobials administered since the antimicrobial ban. Moreover, the imminent ban on AGP in the United States is expected to augment the growth potential of the European animal feed probiotics market in the next five years.

Efficacy and reliability

The strategic positioning of feed additive products to target specific production problems or periods of stress will become more important and the choice of strain may increasingly become affected by changes in feed composition or quality. Although the acceptability of probiotics has risen in the last few years, concerns still exist regarding their efficacy and reliability. Hence, increasing end-user confidence in these products is essential.


Will proposed law mean farmer fratricide?

- Lauchlin W. Titus, Vassalboro Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel, April 22, 2007, http://morningsentinel.mainetoday.com/view/columns/3829154.html

Or is it a solution in search of a problem?

Are Maine farmers about to experience a kind of brother vs. brother civil war such as the one that divided the Vermont farming community over the past four years?

A bill pending before the Legislature that will force legislators to choose between two competing visions for Maine farming could set off the conflict.

The bill, L.D. 1650, submitted by Rep. Jim Schatz, D-Blue Hill, is not an original piece of work. It is the same bill that caused much rancor in Vermont last year and ultimately was vetoed by the governor of that state.

The bill before our Legislature proposes changing some key provisions in Maine law as they relate to genetically modified crops. These are crops that have been altered with modern biotechnology to give them certain desirable traits.

Supporters of the bill claim the changes are necessary to protect Maine farmers from lawsuits arising from the damage caused by genetically engineered (GE) crops. The law would give Maine farmers certain protections if they are sued.

Trouble is, we've had none of the problems in Maine agriculture such as the ones claimed by the supporters of the bill -- organic crops being damaged by pollen from GE crops, farmers being sued and their land invaded by agents of seed developers. In many ways, L.D. 1650 is a solution in search of a problem.

Supporters of the bill believe that when patented GE crops dominate the landscape, the result will be lower nutrition and degradation.

That belief, however, is open to much debate. Genetic traits are being developed for GE crops that will enhance nutrition. As a professional agronomist, I have not found that GE crops cause soil degradation nor have I seen any valid studies to indicate that it does.

In fact, the use of genetically modified traits has dramatically reduced the volume of pesticides used in this state and in this country. This has a positive impact on the environment by reducing levels of herbicides in our ground water and surface waters. A reduction in insecticide usage in corn can have a positive impact on insect diversity, thus improving soil life and soil health, which can have a positive impact on higher life forms -- frogs, birds and other vertebrate species.

Another misleading claim is that farmers can no longer save seeds because of patented seed traits. It is true that farmers who choose to use any of the patent-protected genetic technologies sign a license agreement to not save the seed. They make a conscious decision to buy and use those patent-protected seeds. Farmers who want to can still save seed; many other seed choices are available to them.

The laws of the United States allow individuals and corporations that have patent rights and copyrights to protect those rights through the legal system.

People who disagree should be working to change the federal laws on this issue instead of attempting to impose their ideas on the Maine farmers who want to use the newest, most modern agricultural production practices on their farms.

We have had none of the problems in Maine agriculture claimed by the supporters of L.D. 1650, which this bill is supposed to correct and provide protection for.

It is another attempt to impose the ideas and wills of a few on the many for problems that do not exist.

I am confident that our legislators have the intelligence to recognize this and will act appropriately in defeating it.


Lauchlin W. Titus of Vassalboro is a certified professional agronomist who provides crop consulting services to Maine farmers. He's the president of the Maine Vegetable and Small Fruit Growers Association.


World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development

Comment of Ingo Potrykus

Dear WDR2008 administrator,

Thank you for enabling me to send a few comments after the closing date. I do not have my original comments which had been lost, but I can try to repeat the key points. I restrict my remarks on responses to Focus F and C.

I am retired full professor of plant sciences from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and I spent my scientific carreer and that of my research team on developing and using genetic engineering technology to contribute to food security of poor in developing countries. Our best known case is Golden Rice, developed to provide provitamin A to rice-dependent populations, to reduce vitamin A-deficiency, which is responsible for ca. 6000 death per day. Since my retirement in 1999 I am focusing, as chairman of the Humanitarian Golden Rice Board and Network, on delivering Golden Rice free of charge and limitations to rice farmers in the major rice-depending countries. Please consider this background, when reading my commments.

I am glad to see that the report understands that there are indeed potential benefits of GMOs for the poor.

The key question is "Why the slow progress in transgenics", but the three answers given do not agree with my experience.

It is true that there is not to much work on "pro-poor traits" and crops"; however there are hundreds of colleagues in public institutions in develooping countries and in the West, highly motivated to work on both, the traits and the crops, if there would be funding available. It is wrong to expect this kind of work from the private sector; the public sector is not recognizing its responsibility.

It is also true that "percieved risks" are a mojor barrier and it is good to read, that there is no scientific justification for this perception. Actually there is a wealth of clear scientific evidence from 25 years of biosafety research and regulation, and there is scientific consensus that there is no inherent and specific risk associated with the technology. If someone does claims the contrary he/she either does not know the scientific literature or is lying. But I agree that there is the perceived risk which has to be accepted as psychological fact. It would be up to governments to inform their people on what is right and what wrong. But all this is not the major cause for the "slow progress".

Where I can not agree at all, is the notion that "weak regulatory capacity" is a major cause. It is true that regulatory authorities may have a negative impact, however, not because of weak capacity, but because of the principle of "extreme precautionary regulation" which frightens any person involved, to make a mistake, leading to the psychological situation that is better not to take a decision instead of one which could be criticised by the GMO opposition.

The overwhelming cause for the "slow progress" is, however, the system of "extreme precautionary regulation" established around the world. This regulatoryx system lacks any scientific justification and it prevents use of GMO-technology to the benefit of the poor, by public institutions around the world, specifically all those in develooping countries.

In the specific case of Golden Rice www.goldenrice.org , a humanitarian project from the public domain and supported by the private sector, with the proven capacity to save in India alone up to 40 000 lives per year (see citation Stein et al. Nature Biotechnology at the end of Focus F), we experienced a delay in the adoption, for nothing but regulatory requirements, of so far seven years. It is, probably, fair to state, that GMO regulation, in the context of Golden Rice, is responsible for the loss of 7 x 40 000 lives in India, and of course many more in the other countries. I am not aware of any hypothetical risk from Golden Rice (and actually any GMO) which would justify this loss in lives. And the costs in taking a single transgenic event through regulatory procedures are in the range of US$ 20 million. In summary: one single transgenic event with a pro-poor trait and in a pro-poor crop costs ca. 10 additional years of work ( compared to a non-transgenic one) and US$ 20million.

Golden Rice will be in the hands of the farmers from 2012 onwards - 13 years after scientific proof-of-concept had been established. There is no public institution and no scientist in he public domain which can afford to spend 10 years of an academic carreer on a project with little chance for publication and no public granting institution is willing to invest such an amount of funds into product development and deregulation of one single event, even if proof-of-concept has been established and the potential is saving of millions of lives.

Present regulation prevents use of the technology to the benefit of the poor by the public sector and that is why "progress pro-poor with transgenics" is so slow. There will be no progress unless our society is reducing regulation to scientifically sound requirements.

Therefore, whoever wants to exploit the great potential of GMOs to the benefit of the poor should not argue for strengthening of present regulation, but request adjustment of regulation to our present state of knowledge - not to ideology.

There is no doubt that there are many more potential benefits of GMO-technololgy for the poor, compared to industry, and there is no doubt, that this technology is at least as safe as any other agricultural intervention.

I very strongly recommend that WDR2008 maintains the emphasis on the importance of GMOs for development and argues for regulations which enable the exploitation of this technology for the benefit of the poor.

Again, many thanks for allowing me to reactivate my "lost" comments.

With best regards, Ingo Potrykus


Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Ingo Potrykus Chairman Humanitarian Golden Rice Board & Network


E-consultations - WDR 2008 will hold consultations from April 9 through April 21 to engage with civil society, private sector, academia, government representatives, and other stakeholders. The consultations will be moderated by RIMISP (Latin American Center for Rural Development) and will focus on specific topics including the key messages of the WDR.



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