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May 31, 2007


Banana in Uganda; Progress in Europe; Beeline for Bt in India; Organics the 'Yuppy Chow'?


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - May 31, 2007

* Uganda: Genetically Modified Bananas to be Tested
* Monsanto Still Sees Europe As Future Market for GM Crops
* GM Progress Being Made in Europe, Says Monsanto Chief
* We Need to be on Equal Footing
* India: Bt Cottonseeds on Huge Demand in AP
* India: Bt Cotton to Dominate in Total Cotton Acreage
* Bt Cotton In Warangal District, AP, India: 2. The Perception of the Establishment
* Has Big Business Turned Organics Into 'Yuppy Chow'?


Uganda: Genetically Modified Bananas to be Tested

- New Vision (Uganda), May 30, 2007 http://newvision.co.ug

Uganda is to begin trials of genetically modified bananas at Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute. Dr. Yona Baguma, the head of biotechnology research at the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), said the banana will arrive in the country next week for testing.

He said this on Friday at a workshop organised by the Programme for Biosafety Systems and the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology in Mbarara. Baguma said the banana wilt and the black singatoka (sic) disease had affected the production of the crop.

He added that a Ugandan scientist with a Belgian university were working to offer a solution to the diseases. NARO and Leuven University in Belgium are in the lead of the research. "The bananas will be tested in a confined field trial site in Kawanda. We shall use the technology to improve the local banana varieties," Baguma said. Baguma said the country needs a science and technology policy.

He added that the country has the capacity to undertake biotechnology research. "We want the Government to make commitment to invest in biotechnology." Dr. John Enyaru of Makerere University said biotechnology is equated to Genetically Modified Organisms yet they are only a small part of biotechnology.


Monsanto Still Sees Europe As Future Market for GM Crops

- Rachel Melcer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 31, 2007 http://www.stltoday.com/

The European Union is making slow progress -- but progress nonetheless -- toward acceptance of genetically modified crops, said Hugh Grant, chief executive of Creve Coeur-based Monsanto Co. At the moment, "financially it's immaterial, but strategically it's important" to Monsanto, Grant told analysts at the annual Sanford Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in New York.

Monsanto, the world's largest agricultural biotechnology company, does not count on broad European regulatory approvals of genetically modified crops in its financial projections. But it is laying groundwork to take advantage of a policy change if one should come, Grant said.

In Europe and countries that resist biotech crops out of environmental, health, or cultural concerns, Monsanto is focused on selling conventional hybrid seeds. It is buying local seed companies and using molecular breeding technology to build a base of seeds that outperform competitors' seeds, Grant said.

If biotech traits for crops such as corn and soybeans are approved, Monsanto will be positioned to quickly roll them out in seeds that already have won over farmers. "That's a story still to come, but I think it will go quickly once biotech is approved," he said.

The European Union has deadlocked over the issue for some time. The commission last approved a new biotech crop in 1998, though some products have won executive approval through a legal default process. On June 8, the commission will debate applications for approval of three varieties of biotech corn: one submitted by Monsanto, the others by a joint venture of Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. and Dow AgroSciences LLC. These seek a nod for use of the corn, grown elsewhere, in animal feed and food processing not for cultivation in the EU.

Still, the applications are not expected to pass. Marian Fischer Boel, EU commissioner for agricultural and rural development, told delegates at the recent World Agricultural Forum in St. Louis that the EU needs to speed its approval process.

Varieties of biotech soybeans and corn prohibited in the EU are being adopted at a rapid rate by countries from which it imports. If they aren't approved, "we might find a situation where there are no imports available, in soybeans, for example," she said.

Grant told analysts that seven European countries are planting biotech crops for the second straight season: France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. "It isn't huge acreage, but it is commercial planting and not field trials," he said.

And if the crops perform well, farmers are likely to demand more, Grant said. "When farmers actually experience this on their farm and their field, they don't go back. There still is consumer resistance, (but) from a regulatory and farm pe

GM Progress Being Made in Europe, Says Monsanto Chief

- Food Navigator, May 31, 2007 http://www.foodnavigator.com/

Europe is edging slowly towards GM acceptance, according to Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant, who underscored the continent's strategic importance and said his company is laying the groundwork should a policy-change come to pass.

Grant's comments, reported in the St Louis Post-Dispatch, were made at the Sanford Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in New York yesterday. The newspaper cited Grant as saying Monsanto does not count on broad regulatory approvals in its financial projections, but the at the company is "laying the groundwork to take advantage of policy change if one should come".

European consumers been averse to genetically-modified foods since the concept was introduced in the 1990s, and acceptance has not been helped by the EU's slow approvals process. he last time a crop was actually positively approved was in 1998. Three crops, one from Monsanto and two from a Pioneer-Dow AgroSciences joint venture, are up for debate next week. These do not seek the go ahead for cultivation in the EU, but rather for crops grown elsewhere to be used in feed and food processing in the bloc.

But Grant expects that farmers will play a key role in encouraging acceptance. Biotech crops are being planted in France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. "When farmers actually experience [the performance of GM crops] on their farm and their field, they don't go back," he said. "From a farm perspective there is significant progress."

However earlier this month Germany tightened its restrictions on GM corn. A letter from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to Monsanto leaked to the media reportedly said that GM corn MON 810 can only be delivered to third parties if accompanied by a plan for monitoring its environmental effects.

Until now Mon 810 seed has been legally sold in German, but the letter has been interpreted as, effectively, a ban. Grant also gave an insight into his vision of Monsanto's future, which is likely to be determined more by sales of biotech crops than chemical pesticides and fertilisers. But rather than being engineered to have one useful trait, in the future they will have multiple traits - stacked up so that they can deal with a multitude of environmental difficulties at once.

Monsanto has already staked a claim in gene stacking. Last week it announced a three-year joint research programme with gene technology expert Chromatin to develop ways of increasing the number of modified genes that can be inserted into crops. The agreement provides for extension as necessary.

This came on the back of a similar agreement earlier this year with German chemical giant BASF, fund a pipeline of yield and stress tolerance traits for corn, soybeans, cotton and canola via a dedicated joint budget of potentially $1.5bn (1.2bn).

The first product developed as a result of the agreement with BASF is expected to be commercialized in the first half of the next decade.


We Need to be on Equal Footing

- Bill Crabtree (Bentley, Western Australia) Weekly Times (Australia), May 30, 2007

Chris Rule's comments that pour scepticism on the value of GM crops -- ''It's a genetically modified argument'' (WT, May 23) -- are clearly made without any first-hand experience.

Chris should take an investigative trip to South and North America to see just what is really happening. Brazil, Argentina, Canada and the US are our main crop competitor exporters and their oilseed crops are predominantly GM.

Their adoption rates have been breathtakingly fast, from nothing 11 years ago. GM crops mean less chemical use and with more benign products.

So why do they grow lots of GM crops and export them to Australia? Why have most of our competitors largely abandoned non-GM crops? The answer is simple when you speak to them, as I have done as an independent agronomist.

They say higher yields, less tillage, less work and better weed control to manage resistant weeds frees up more time, more profits and more investment back into improved varieties with more yield gain.

What we need in the media now is responsible journalism. Good journalism might compare and contrast the most similar farming systems and rotations to ours -- Canada.

I lived in Canada for 12 months and saw first-hand the changes in herbicide resistance, yields and markets, and the relaxed views on GM. Eleven years ago many Canadian farmers were ready to get out of farming due to herbicide resistance -- now it is a dead issue for them. But not for us. Interestingly, herbicide resistance issues in Canada were on a par with Australia 11 years ago.

The US is different with Roundup-ready corn and soy, with an over-reliance on Roundup. Hybrid competitive vigor and the widely embraced, other knockdown herbicide, Liberty Link (GM) canola, have contributed greatly to their resistance management.

Their canola hybrids grow better in droughts and are the main profit crop for prairie Canadian farmers. While we are restricted to lesser varieties which yield 50 per cent of our wheat, their GM canola is often more than 75 per cent of their wheat yield.


India: Bt Cottonseeds on Huge Demand in AP

- Bharat Textile, May 29, 2007 http://www.bharattextile.com/

Hyderabad: The agriculture ministry, following the huge rush for Bt cottonseed in Adilabad district has warned the companies not to cash in on the eagerness of the farmers to buy the seed, Mr N Raghuveera Reddy, Minister for Agriculture said here on May 28.

The minister informed that the worry of not getting the required quantity of seed has forced the farmers from five mandals to mob the seed sale point.

The thousands of farmers made a beeline at the sales point seeking to buy packets of RCH2 (a Bt cottonseed from Rasi Seeds), which has gone well with the farmers in Adilabad and Karimnagar.

However, the minister has asked the farmers not to panic as the company gave a written undertaking that they would supply one lakh packets of seed this season and also stated that the reduction of seed price had led to phenomenal growth in Bt acreage. During 2006-07, the Bt cotton acreage went up to 16 lakh acres as against 5.5 lakh acres in 2005-06; whereas the total cotton crop area in the state was put at 24.67 lakh acres. (I lakh = 100,000)

The seed companies have planned to supply 38.28 lakh packets of seed as against the total cotton acreage of 24.67 lakh acres and so the farmers should not worry about the seed, Mr Reddy added.


India: Bt Cotton to Dominate in Total Cotton Acreage

- Bharat Textile, May 25, 2007 http://www.bharattextile.com

Mumbai - The genetically modified cotton varieties would account for half of the total area covered under cotton in India, Kishorilal Jhunjhunwala, president of the East India Cotton Association said here on May 24.

The president added that the crop had covered 9.1 million hectares in 2006/07, with good yield and prices but may see little change in 2007/08 as farmers would have little incentive to shift to any other crop.

The bio-engineered cotton covered 35 percent of total area; whereas last year was marked by a sharp rise in productivity, with cotton yield rising to 500 kg per hectare, largely aided by adoption of BT cotton.

The BT cotton based on technology from seed giant Monsanto Co. helps fight boll worms, a major worry for Indian farmers, but has faced stiff opposition from environmental groups who claim such products deplete bio-diversity.

On the other hand, cotton farmers are very happy with cotton prices and productivity and with aggressive buying BT cotton seeds by farmers, certainly will be increase in area under BT.

Further, the local trade officials estimated that the domestic cotton production will go up to 27 million bales in year to September 2007, up 11 percent from year ago.

However, cotton farmers would not be distracted by the high prices for oilseeds and pulses and will shift towards cotton from other crops or towards other crops from cotton.

The total cotton export in the cotton year ending September 2007 would cross 4 million bales but would be below earlier expectations.


Bt Cotton In Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh, India: 2. The Perception of the Establishment

- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India krao@vsnl.com, www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org, May 21, 2007

At Hyderabad, we visited the Andhra Pradesh State Seed Certification Agency. We met with Scientific Officers of the Warangal Research Station of the Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University of AP., the Officers at the District Office of the Government Department of Agriculture, Warangal and the dealers of Seeds and Pesticides, Warangal.

1. Andhra Pradesh State Seed Certification Agency, Hyderabad

The Seed Certification Agency of the Government of AP is totally out of the picture as Bt cotton seed was not officially notified. Certification of any seed is voluntary and no one applied for certification of Bt cotton seed. While there are facilities with the Agency for testing genetic purity including the Bt event, most of the time seed certification is confined to seed viability and germination studies. Only six to eight parental lines, some imported from Russia and Cambodia, seem to be involved in the production of over 200 cotton hybrids in the country. With no information on the pedigree of most of these varieties, there appears to be some confusion in understanding and distinguishing varieties and hybrids.

2. Scientific Officers of the Agricultural Research Station, of the Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University of AP, at Warangal

The Scientific Officers of the Agricultural Research Station, ANGRAU at Warangal, informed us that public institutions did not go all out to recommend Bt cotton nor spoke against it, as they do not wish to get involved in any kind of public controversy. In addition, the level of understanding of transgenic technology, even among the agricultural scientists, is often far from desirable.

Officers know that most farmers, not being sure of any, used two or three different Bt varieties. Generally, refugium was not planted as farmers do not want to lose that much of the crop and also because there is a considerable area under non-Bt around the Bt cotton fields, which they inappropriately considered as the refugium. Since 2006-07 was a low pest pressure year, chemical inputs on Bt crop were considerably lower than even the previous year. In the Warangal district, cotton was recently afflicted with a) the black arm bacterial disease, b) grey mildew and c) the tobacco streak virus, rarely known in earlier years. A soil borne root rot disease affected not just cotton, but also maize, red gram and chillies. The Scientists do not relate any of these diseases to the Bt gene.

3. Warangal District Office of the Department of Agriculture

The Officers of the District Agricultural Office (DAO), Warangal, told us that the seed sellers inform them about the Bt seed varieties being marketed. One Joint Director and four Deputy Directors monitor cultivation. The DAO confirmed that for the past two years 95 per cent of cotton in the Warangal District was Bt and that chemical pesticide application came down by over 50 per cent. The yield averaged eight quintals per acre of Bt while it was two to three quintals from non-Bt varieties.

The DAO does not consider that sheep death can be attributed to Bt cotton as sheep used to die even before, may be due to pesticides.

A local agriculture correspondent of a vernacular daily also told us that he does not believe that the Bt crop failed or sheep die due to foraging on Bt cotton stubble.

The DAO has records of payment of compensation on claims of cotton crop failure to the tune of Rs. 3.27 crore, at the rate of Rs. 1,400 per acre, during the past couple of years, of which the Excel Company alone paid Rs. 2.5 crore. With such a big incentive, most of the protests appear to be orchestrated and even those farmers, who did not suffer crop losses, either willingly or under pressure claimed compensation or got it.

In the Warangal field trials of several varieties of BGI and BGII (with two Bt genes) are going on with appropriate check varieties.

4. Seed and Pesticide Dealers

We met about a dozen Seed and Pesticide Dealers on the Station Road in Warangal. Bt cotton seed required for one acre, was sold at Rs. 750. Farmers have preference to certain Bt cotton varieties.

During the 2006-07 crop season chemical pesticide sales were down by 60 per cent, to about Rs. 3 crore from Rs. 7 to 8 crore. The health of the farm workers has certainly improved on account of reduced exposure to chemicals.

The dealers are not averse to regulated development and sale of Bt cotton seed to eliminate black market, which is dominated by the fly-by-night operators.

The dealers do not consider that sheep died on eating Bt cotton stubble. They are also certain that no farmer committed suicide on account of Bt cotton.

The Scientists of ANGRAU and the Officers of the DAO are very much concerned with the problems the farmers face. They certainly know what should be done to help the farmers in maximizing the benefits out of cultivation of Bt cotton. However, NGO backed controversies and political complications at the State Governmental level, deter them from participating actively.

The co-operation of the Seed and Pesticide dealers is the key factor in ensuring that only authentic seed is available to the farmers.


Has Big Business Turned Organics Into 'Yuppy Chow'?

- Michael Valpy The Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 30, 2007 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/

Organic food is being taken over by big business, marketed as "yuppie chow" for the privileged, and increasingly packaged with as little concern for the environment as conventional food production, says a York University academic researcher.

In a paper to be presented on Friday at Canada's largest gathering of social sciences scholars, Irena Knezevic says that most of the major organic brands on the North American market are now owned by large corporations such as ConAgra, Cargill, Kraft, Coca Cola and Pepsi.

She says their products - along with those sold by retail giants such as Loblaws and Wal-Mart - are turning organic agriculture into product brands that are becoming "a marketing tool more so than an assurance of quality, let alone an assurance of a fair and sustainable production process." Officials from Loblaws and Wal-Mart were unavailable for comment last night.

This trend, says Ms. Knezevic, is driven by consumer demand, with the food industry's eager willingness to jump on the bandwagon and make organic consumption efficient and slightly less expensive by mass-producing - creating only a slightly "greener" version of the dominant industrial food system but separating organic agriculture from its central concepts.

She says consumers are demonstrating a phenomenal enthusiasm for organic products - the Canadian organic industry is growing by 15 to 20 per cent annually - and a readiness to pay premium prices for the products.

But what research shows, she says, is that organic products are becoming what she describes as a food fetish associated with individual health and body image - status food linked to high disposable income and the leisure time to shop - but ignoring "the heart of organic agriculture."

"Organic agriculture is by definition intertwined with environmentalism, resistance to corporate globalization and the 'back to the land' movement," she says.

Organic food is conventionally defined as free of chemical inputs - pesticides and artificial fertilizers - and genetically modified organisms, produced with sensitivity to the land, the crops, the animals and the surrounding ecosystems, and providing a fair economic return to small growers who produce food as an alternative to mass commodity production.

It is the environmental and social-justice issues that Ms. Knezevic says are being ignored by consumers and government regulators. "Most of the organic food supply in Canada travels to consumers from California and includes convenience foods like individual-sized and single-serving granola bars. Transportation and packaging involved result in environmental consequences comparable to those of conventional food production."

In her paper, she quotes George Siemon, the founder of the largest North American co-operative organic producer, California's Organic Valley - a non-corporate grower - as wryly telling a recent conference: "We expect any day now that our consumers will ask for organic Twinkies. Individually wrapped, of course."

Ms. Knezevic says the Canadian federal government's proposed national labelling for organic foods will tell consumers little about how organic food is produced - little about who produced it or the farmers' environmental and sustainable stewardship of the land, whether the food was locally produced or what economic return farmers got for their labour. The proposed labelling, she says, will only continue to distance consumers from their food and are mainly aimed at encouraging both mass production and exports into a globally harmonized market.

Indeed, she says, the regulations will encourage corporations to take over more and more of organic agriculture because government subsidies favour large producers over small ones.

Achim Mohssen-Beyk, an organic farmer from Picton, Ont., said that big companies may meet the basic standards for organic certification in Canada, but the consumer will never know about the environmental or social footprints they leave.

"All the food mileage and mass production, the organic certification doesn't talk about that. You can have certified organic coming from China and people being exploited there and nobody's talking about that," said Mr. Mohssen-Beyk, who is also a regional spokesman for the Canadian Organic Growers. He said small, local farmers can't compete with the price-point advantages of big companies, even though they maintain the highest of standards. "We are losing farms, we are losing farmland, we are losing rural economies because everything is being imported."

Ms. Knezevic quotes a National Farmers Union study that says small-farm income in Canada is now at the lowest point since the Depression. Ms. Knezevic is a doctoral candidate in the joint York-Ryerson Universities communication and culture program. Earlier this year, she was given a major teaching award by York and cited for her research skills and commitment to the mentoring and academic success of her students.

She will present her research to the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences being held this week at the University of Saskatchewan. There are 5,500 scholars attending. She writes in her paper: "Organic foods have less and less to do with the ethics of environmentalism, anti-globalization and social justice, indeed less to do with organic agriculture as a concept, but more and more with hip consumerism, cultural and economic capital and the moral pedestals of those who have the luxury to make such purchasing choices."

What is being created, she says, is "a system in which organic products are more and more removed from the actual problems with food production and incorporated into the dominant agricultural model. The core problems of the global food system, mainly distancing, remain unaddressed."