Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org May 4, 2007
* Court rejects appeal on GM canola case
* Plan for GM crop field trials revived
* Report: crop approval processes biased against GM
* Farming 'needs GM-style reviews'
* Hormone-free milk is false
* New Biosciences Research Centre planned
* Modified rice called nice
* Detoxification of 2,4-dinitrotoluene by Transgenic Plants
Court rejects appeal on GM canola case
- CBC News (Canada), May 3, 2007
Two organic farmers from Saskatchewan have lost their latest bid for a class-action lawsuit against farm chemical companies involved in producing genetically modified canola.
On Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by Dale Beaudoin and Larry Hoffman of L.B. Hoffman Farms Inc. against Monsanto Canada and Bayer CropScience.
They are seeking damages from the two companies for allegedly contaminating their organically grown canola and their fields with genetically modified canola.
Genetically modified canola has been altered so that it's resistant to certain herbicides, making it simpler for farmers to spray.
Hoffman and Beaudoin wanted their case to be declared a class-action suit, so many farmers could join the action with one legal team arguing the case.
They were turned down by the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench two years ago and on Wednesday, the Appeal Court upheld that decision.
Without class-action status, farmers can still sue, but only as individuals. The other possibility is for Hoffman and Beaudoin to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. They have until Aug. 2 to apply to the Supreme Court.
In a news release, Monsanto officials said they were pleased with Wednesday's decision.
The farmers' case is sponsored by the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate's Organic Agriculture Protection Fund.
Plan for GM crop field trials revived
Draft guidelines to go to cabinet next month
- Piyaporn Wongruang, Bangkok Post, May 4, 2007
The Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry has revived a plan to conduct field trials of genetically modified crops. Minister Thira Sutabutra yesterday said he had told the Agriculture Department to draft guidelines on how the open-field trials should be conducted to ensure the environment and human health were not affected.
The department is expected to complete the transgenic crop trial framework by the end of the month, and the ministry would ask cabinet for approval of the draft next month, he said.
GM crops must pass three levels of biosafety tests _ laboratory, greenhouse, and open field trials _ before being endorsed for mass production.
Mr Thira said experiments on GM crops in the country had so far only been at the greenhouse level.
Open field trials were necessary if scientists wanted to know the possible impact of GM plants on the environment.
Field trials and commercialisation of GM crops were put on hold under a cabinet resolution in 2001, shortly after the spread of GM cotton which raised fears among the public of the adverse impact of GM plants on human health and the environment.
In the past six years, the ministry, which oversees experiments and planting of GM crops, has repeatedly tried to lift the ban, but failed due to opposition from environmentalists and farmers.
Protests against transgenic crop growing resurfaced in 2004, when GM papaya grown at an experimental field inside the department's research station in Khon Kaen were found in non-GM papaya plantations nearby.
Scientists say that genetic engineering technology will help reduce the use of harmful farm chemicals and fertiliser.
Mr Thira said the ministry decided to press ahead with field trials of GM crops because some neighbouring countries have been working on the technology and had yielded research outcomes that could put Thailand at a competitive disadvantage in the farm sector.
He said that many farmers suffered low farm yields from disease and pest outbreaks, which could be corrected by GM technology. ''We care about farmers, and we are not working on this issue without reason,'' he said.
Adisak Sreesunpagit, the Agriculture Department chief, said the department would try figuring out how the open field trials should be conducted.
He said the trials should be conducted under tight controls, while the experimental fields should be located away from other farms to prevent the plants from spreading into conventional crop areas.
If cabinet approves the trial, the potential crops which could be planted would be papaya, tomato, chilli, and pineapple, he said.
Mr Adisak said it was unreasonable to ban GM crop field trials.
''Can anyone tell me how exactly GM crops are harmful?'' he said.
Witoon Lianchamroon, director of BioThai, a non-profit organisation promoting biodiversity, said the ministry had not yet shown the public how it could stop GM crops spreading to conventional farms.
He said the ministry should drop the idea for the public good.
Report claims crop approval processes are biased against GM
- Clemmie Gleeson, Farmers Guardian, May 4, 2007
THE approval processes for genetically modified and conventional crops are fundamentally flawed and biased against GM.
That is the renewed message from a sub-group of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) in a report this week.
The sub-group was set up to assess the wider implications of the Farm-Scale Evaluations of genetically modified herbicide tolerant (GMHT) crops.
A draft of its report was sent to a range of stakeholders for consultation last year and its updated report was published yesterday.
The FSEs were a four-year research programme looking at the effect that the management practices associated with GMHT crops might have on farmland wildlife, compared with weed control used with non-GM crops.
The results for the field trials in spring sown crop (maize, beet and oilseed rape) were published in 2003 and the results for winter oilseed rape were published in 2005.
The ACRE sub-group's report highlights inconsistencies in the way GM crops are assessed compared to other crops and practices. For example, EU law requires an environmental risk assessment of the impact for GM crops while no such assessments are required for non-GM crops.
There is also no requirement for agricultural management practices to be subjected to the same scrutiny, despite studies that have shown changes to practices, for example switching from spring to winter sowing, can be 'at least as significant' as changes associated with GM crops.
The report said: "This inconsistency is further illustrated by GM herbicide tolerant crops that require an extensive environmental risk assessment before approval for cultivation and marketing whilst herbicide tolerant crops produced by non-GM breeding methods can be grown without an equivalent assessment."
It also criticised the EU Directive 2001/18 for making no provision to assess environmental benefits of GM crops such as reduced herbicide use while, environmental benefits are a 'major focus' in the introduction of a number of other novel crops (including energy crops) and agricultural management practices in the UK. Similarly, there is no regulatory requirement to assess potential environmental costs in a fashion similar to GM crops.
Greater environmental sustainability involves understanding and balancing the potential risks and benefits of existing and new agricultural technologies whether GM or non-GM, say the scientists.
They have therefore recommended seven principles that the UK adopt when assessing novel agricultural products and practices. These include taking account of benefits as well as risks, comparative assessment with current crops and practices, and being sensitive to the competitiveness of all sectors of UK agriculture.
It also proposes the use of a Comparative Sustainability Assessment (CSA) that should be accommodated within EU legislation concerning the release of GMOs. Such an approach would not represent a 'softening' of the current regulatory region with respect to GMs, it said.
Farming 'needs GM-style reviews'
- BBC News, May 3, 2007
All new farming methods, not just genetically modified (GM) crops, should be assessed for their potential impact on the environment, UK experts suggest.
Government advisors on GM plants said that while GM technology was subjected to close scrutiny, there was no similar system for conventional practices.
The impacts on the land, as well as the economic benefits, should be understood before being widely adopted, they argued.
The recommendations were made in a report into agriculture's footprint.
The findings, published by a sub-group of the Advisory Committee of Releases to the Environment (Acre), are based on data gathering during four-year Farm-Scale Evaluations (FSEs) into the impact of GM herbicide tolerant crops.
"Field studies have shown that the environmental impact of changes in agricultural management can be at least as significant as those associated with GM crops," the authors wrote.
"During the time we were working on this report, it became obvious to many of us that agriculture itself would be facing new challenges in the 21st Century," Professor Pollock said.
He listed increases in population, greater prosperity and impacts of climate change as some of the factors that were set to change the face of farming around the world.
These influences on agriculture were likely to make food security a key concern in the coming years, warned Jules Pretty, deputy chairman of Acre.
One possible solution would be the greater use of GM technology to produce, for example, drought-resistant food crops.
However, there has been widespread public concern about the potential impacts of GM crops on the environment.
This led to the formation of very tight regulations governing the technology, Professor Pretty explained.
"In the report, we set out a series of other examples in agriculture that have had significant impacts on the landscape but have not been regulated.
"For example, the shift from spring wheat to winter wheat, from hay making to silage making, and from mixed farms to specialised farms," he told reporters.
Professor Pretty added that farmers switching from food crops to grow energy crops was a current example of a significant shift in agricultural practices.
He said without evidence-based studies, similar to those used to evaluate GM crops, it was difficult to know whether the growth in energy crops was doing more good than harm.
In its report, the committee recommended the adoption of a Comparative Sustainability Assessment (CSA) for novel crops and farming methods.
By looking at a range of environmental and economic factors, the assessment would provide farmers and policy makers with a better understanding of the potential impacts before adopting the new crop or method.
"Our concern is that novel technologies... are not coming forward in the way that we need them to come forward," Professor Pretty said.
"We are facing a period of significant challenges in the future, and if we miss those chances of novel solutions then we are going to be in a bit of trouble."
The study, which was first published in March last year but now includes the results of a public consultation, is now being considered by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Hormone-free milk is false
- Grace Leong, Daily Herald (Utah), May 4, 2007
Got synthetic hormone-free milk?
How 'bout controversy?
A milk marketing campaign by Associated Food Stores has riled several dairy farmers across the Beehive State and caught the eye of a state agency, forcing the Salt Lake City-based grocery cooperative to change its milk ads starting Sunday.
At issue is what has been described by the state and irate dairy farmers as a "misleading" milk ad run by 170 of Associated Food's 400-plus independently owned and corporate-owned stores, including Macey's, for the past two weeks.
The ad says: "Got Hormones? We Don't."
But there's no such thing as hormone-free milk, said Kyle Stephens, deputy commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.
"Hormones are naturally occurring in milk, so the ad is false and misleading," he said.
Starting Sunday, Stephens said, Associated Foods will change its milk ads to say "Got All Natural Milk? Our Cows Do."
"We want to be good corporate citizens. But obviously we've offended the dairy farmers," said Neal Berube, chief operating officer with Associated Foods.
"We respect them and are compassionate to their needs. But we're not embarrassed about giving consumers a choice."
Meanwhile, Associated Foods can continue advertising its store brand, Western Family milk, as "all natural from cows not treated with the growth hormone rbST," Stephens said.
That's because the Food and Drug Administration allows the term "all natural" to be used on milk products that don't use added colors or synthetic materials, he said.
Recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rbST, is a synthetic version of a naturally-occurring hormone that was approved by the FDA in 1993 to boost milk production. There's no significant difference between milk from cows treated with the growth hormone and untreated cows, the federal agency said.
Even its natural form, bovine somatotropin, a naturally occurring protein found in cow's milk, does not have any physiological effect on humans consuming the milk because it is biologically inactive in humans. Pasteurization destroys 90 percent of bST in milk, the FDA said.
Dairy industry, retailers divided
But the bioengineered growth hormone, rbST, created by biotech giant Monsanto, remains a controversial issue dividing dairy farmers and retailers, especially those in the organic industry.
"We're not saying rbST milk is dangerous," Berube said. "We're not saying it's good or bad. We have milk that's not treated with the hormone rbST and we will continue to let consumers know we have that."
State Agriculture Commissioner Stephens disagreed.
"These ads are playing on a misunderstanding that rbST-free milk is healthier than rbST milk," he said. "All milk is natural. And there are no tests that can be conducted to differentiate between rbST and rbST-free milk."
Still, some consumers are wary, and more seem to be requesting for their milk to be rbST-free, he said.
Fueling such concerns is a recent petition by a coalition including the Organic Consumers Association for the FDA to ban rbST because it allegedly increased the risk of certain kinds of cancer for those who drank milk from rbST-treated cows. But Monsanto, which produces the rbST hormone, maintains it's safe.
More retailers go rbST-free
Those health concerns are apparently prompting other retailers to make changes too.
In Utah, Kroger-owned Smith's Food & Drug stores have begun offering certified synthetic hormone-free milk.
"Our milk suppliers are now providing us with raw milk they have certified as being free of the synthetic hormone rbST, so Smith's has recently begun using that supply in all our milk production," Marsha Gilford, Smith's spokeswoman said in a statement Thursday.
"Utah customers will find information on the milk container label and may possibly see some in-store notification in the dairy section."
Elsewhere in the nation, Chipotle started using rbST-free sour cream on its burritos and tacos this year, and Starbucks said it would use more milk without synthetic hormones.
Earlier this week, a Florida-based supermarket chain, Publix Super Markets, began introducing a full line of milk without rbST.
Utah dairy farmers worried
Those changes are a troubling trend for dairy farmers like Brad and Jason Bateman of Bateman's Mosida Farms in Alberta, who have been using rbST intermittently for the past eight years to increase their cows' milk production.
"This is just some marketing program that some silk suit dreamed up of to differentiate their milk," said Brad Bateman, a third-generation Utah dairy farmer. "If we stopped using rbST, it would cost us upwards of a dollar per hundredweight to produce milk and we will be producing 10 percent to 12 percent less milk."
Bateman's Mosida currently ships 420,000 pounds of milk per day to processors including Dannon Co. in West Jordan, Meadow Gold Dairies and Cream O'Weber Dairy in Salt Lake City, and retailers like Smith's Food & Drug.
Already, four to five Utah County producers have closed their dairies in the past year due to increasing urbanization and other industry challenges, said Jason Bateman, Brad's brother and a board member of Dairy Farmers of Utah, a nonprofit group representing more than 300 dairy farmers statewide.
Dairy industry's woes
Skyrocketing crude oil prices have driven up operating costs for many dairy farmers, but milk prices have remained low, pinching revenues, Jason Bateman said.
"This past year, our energy costs of propane and diesel have gone through the roof, as well as our equipment and fertilizer costs," he said. "We're now paying $53,000 a month in fuel surcharges for freight shipping into and out of our farm, which we can't pass on to the processors. Our feed costs have jumped because corn prices have increased dramatically due to growing ethanol demand."
The last thing we want to do is put dairy farmers out of business, Associated Food's Berube said.
"We didn't invent rbST-free milk. Consumers across the country want more organic products. The government wants consumers to have more information through better labeling," he said. "Our suppliers, Meadow Gold and Layton Dairy, began asking for milk without rbST in March. That will become the normal mode of production as demand for organic food increases."
Milk produced without the synthetic hormone generally costs 30 cents to 35 cents more per hundredweight, according to Steve Frischknecht, a board director of Utah Dairy Commission and secretary of the United Dairy Association in Chicago.
That type of milk costs more in part because cows produce less without the hormone.
But this shouldn't affect the cost of Associated Food's milk, Berube said.
"We're not charging a premium on rbST-free milk. But we've heard some other retailers using this to get up to $1 more profit," he said.
The grocer co-op now offers rbST-free milk only in one-gallon and half-gallon bottles under the Western Family, Meadow Gold and Shur Savings brands.
Nonetheless, these trends are worrying dairy farmers like the Batemans.
"If we lose an advantage like rbST, which helps us produce milk cheaper, it's like taking money out of our pocket," Jason Bateman said. "More dairy farmers will go out of business because they'll be less profitable."
Utah County now has 16 dairy producers in Genola, West Mountain, Spanish Fork, Springville and Provo, down from about 20 a year ago.
New Biosciences Research Centre planned at La Trobe University
- La Trobe University, Press release, May 2, 2007
The Victorian Government plans to build a new state-of-the art Biosciences Research Centre at La Trobe University.
The new centre will advance genomic plant and animal science and will focus new generation biosciences on threats such as climate change to Victoria's agricultural exports.
La Trobe University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Johnson, has welcomed the announcement by the Victorian Government in today's budget.
"We are delighted that the Victorian Government has chosen La Trobe as the site to build this important facility", he said.
"Researchers from La Trobe working in plant and animal sciences already collaborate most productively with their colleagues in the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI), and co-location will further enhance science outcomes".
"The choice of La Trobe as a partner in the project is a clear indication of the capacity of the University to contribute to critical research and development directed at enhancing and protecting the plant and animal industries so vital to Australia".
The Victorian Government and La Trobe University are working closely to finalise the proposed partnership arrangements.
The Victorian Government has allocated $180 million to the project. Subject to finalisation of the business case, La Trobe University is looking to commit up to $50m to the partnership.
The planned initiative will assist in positioning La Trobe within the top tier of Australian universities, and will boost the University's and DPI's international profile.
With the involvement of other research organisations such as CSIRO, the Centre will quickly establish itself as one of Australia's premier science facilities.
Modified rice called nice for environment
- Bernadette Tansey, San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2007
A Davis biotechnology company is collaborating with China's top rice-growing region on a project designed to reduce the huge contribution of agriculture to global warming.
Arcadia Biosciences has agreed to adapt its genetically engineered strain of rice to grow in China, where it may lower the need for nitrogen fertilizer because it absorbs the element nitrogen more efficiently than naturally occurring varieties.
Nitrogen-based fertilizer contributes to climate change because soil bacteria convert it into nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that has almost 300 times the power to induce global warming as carbon dioxide, Arcadia chief executive Eric Rey said.
The company's collaboration with the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of China may also help establish a new source of revenue for farmers if the partners can demonstrate that the rice strain reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
If the benefit is recognized by governments that are signatories to the Kyoto Protocol -- an international agreement among industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions -- growers who use less fertilizer would be able to sell "carbon credits'' on world trading markets.
Buyers of the credits are companies that need to offset their own excess gas emissions to avoid government penalties. A coal-fired power plant in England, for example, could someday buy credits from Chinese rice farmers, Rey said.
Emissions from agriculture contribute about 15 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, according to a report published by the World Resources Institute.
Nitrous oxide represents about half of those agricultural releases. The other half are carbon-based gases including methane and carbon dioxide.
Rice production consumes about 20 percent of global nitrogen fertilizer use and China is the world's largest user of these fertilizers, Arcadia said.
Rey estimated that China could generate $330 million of carbon credits per year if it converted to rice crops requiring less fertilizer.
The company declined to disclose revenue estimates for the use in China of its Nitrogen Use Efficiency rice, which has not been commercialized in any country. Rey said it could take six years or more to reach the marketing stage, pending regulatory approvals.
Such projects often face scientific and financial hurdles, said Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety, a watchdog group that opposes the rapid adoption of genetically modified crops.
No company has widely commercialized a genetically engineered crop variety that increases nitrogen efficiency, Freese said. About 81 percent of agricultural varieties produced through gene splicing are sold based on their ability to tolerate herbicides, he said.
Such engineered traits can produce unintended health risks or environmental consequences, Freese said.
If China allows genetically modified strains in its rice supply, it could face the rejection of its rice exports in countries such as Japan because of consumer resistance, he said.
The Center for Food Safety advocates thorough evaluations by government regulatory agencies of the impact of genetically engineered crops on health and global ecology.
The organization supported a lawsuit against Monsanto's modified form of alfalfa in federal court in San Francisco, where a judge ruled Thursday that planting must halt until the U.S. Department of Agriculture completes an environmental impact review.
Detoxification of 2,4-dinitrotoluene by Transgenic Tobacco Plants Expressing a Bacterial Flavodoxin
- Vanesa B Tognetti, Mariela R Monti, Estela M Valle, Nestor Carrillo, and Andrea M Smania, Environ. Sci. Technol. (ASAP Article 10.1021/es070015y S0013-936X(07)00015-6), Web Release Date: May 4, 2007
Significant effort has been directed in recent times to the use of plants to extract and detoxify nitroaromatics from polluted industrial facilities. We have explored the possibility of overcoming the phytotoxicity of the highly toxic and recalcitrant nitroderivative 2,4-dinitrotoluene (2,4-DNT) by expressing a cyanobacterial flavodoxin (Fld) in tobacco plants. We demonstrate here that transformants accumulating Fld in plastids display a remarkable increase in the ability to tolerate, take up, and transform 2,4-DNT, as compared to their wild-type siblings. We also show that Fld mediates one-electron reduction of 2,4-DNT in the presence of oxygen and especially in anaerobiosis. Moreover, Fld-loaded chloroplasts are able to convert 2,4-DNT into its aminoderivatives in the presence of light. The results suggest that expression of Fld in landscape plants could facilitate effective cleanup of sites contaminated with this class of pollutants.
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*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net