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Date:

June 9, 2007

Subject:

Transgenic crops relatively kind; Agri-Biotech Day Inaugurated; Confessions of a biotech bully

 

* Transgenic crops relatively kind
* EU-27 Agricultural Biotechnology Report
* Agri-Biotech Day Inaugurated
* Confessions of a biotech bully
* Crop Biotech Update

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Transgenic crops relatively kind to insects

Study helps mollify one concern about pest-killing crops.

- Heidi Ledford, Nature, June 7, 2007 (doi:10.1038/news070604-9)

http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070604/full/070604-9.html

[photo caption: Crops engineered to kill off corn borers don't seem to wipe out other insects.]

Crops modified to produce insecticides against pests are relatively kind to other insects, an analysis of 42 field experiments suggests. Fields of transgenic cotton and corn contain more non-target insects than those of traditional crops sprayed with insecticides, the study shows. But both have fewer such insects than traditional fields that aren't sprayed at all.

The finding eases worries that crops engineered to produce an insecticidal toxin made by the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacterium might kill more insects than intended, thus harming wildlife. The toxin is intended to target specific groups of plant pests, such as corn borers and cotton bollworms.

A debate about this effect has run since the first Bt crops were released in 1996. Recent field trials have found that Bt crops have little or no significant impact on non-target species. But lab studies showing that insects fed Bt-producing pollen are smaller and reproduce less have worried sceptics.

"This is such a controversial issue," says ecologist Michelle Marvier of Santa Clara University, California. "There's a lot of public fear, in part because there's not a lot of transparency in the testing process."

Pooling resources

Marvier and her colleagues used the US Freedom of Information Act to obtain the results of field trials submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency as part of the approval process for the engineered crops.

The field studies, she found, tended to use sample sizes that were too small to reveal small but statistically meaningful differences. So the researchers combined the data from field studies that measured invertebrate populations near Bt crops, in the hope of getting a large enough sample to spot small differences.

Overall, they report in Science1, Bt fields contained more invertebrates than fields sprayed with insecticide. But both contained fewer bugs than fields containing no Bt crops that were not sprayed with insecticides.

The results' ecological significance is unclear, given the small differences in the invertebrate populations of different fields, says entomologist Yves Carrière of the University of Arizona, Tucson. But the meta-analysis approach can give a clearer picture of what's happening in the field.

"The data are only just becoming available to conduct meta-analyses," says Carrière. "I'm certain that many such studies will come out in the next few years."

Finer grain

One useful step, he adds, would be to focus on species, rather than lumping invertebrates together by family, as Marvier's study did. That focus might reveal differences that are missed when species are grouped together.

The approach may also address other concerns about transgenic crops, such as whether they promote new types of pests, or encourage weeds that have a knock-on effect on butterflies and other insects.

To facilitate future studies, Marvier has made a database of all of the trials her team found. US regulators should require petitioners to deposit data in a similar database, akin to a clinical-trial registry for drug tests, she says.

The database will soon need updating, Carrière warns. "This study covers transgenics that produce a single Bt toxin," he says. "But this first generation of transgenics is being replaced with plants that have two toxins with a broader mode of action. So this is not the end of the story."

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EU-27 Biotechnology Annual Agricultural Biotechnology Report

- Stan Cohen, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, June 5, 2007 (GAIN Report No. E47044 E40000)

http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200706/146291311.pdf

[excerpted; 16.4K, 16 pp.]

The debate concerning biotechnology in the EU is highly politicized. Few of the contentious biotech issues now confronting the EU are related to human health and environmental safety. Over the last 8 years the EU has implemented a comprehensive regulatory system to ensure that biotech products are fully evaluated to ensure their safety. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Member State competent authorities have the final scientific say before a product is authorized for release on the market. Now the EU and the Member States are deadlocked over a number of issues that are based on economic considerations, and not safety: 1) the on-going search for seed labeling legislation for biotech events approved by EFSA and 2) the development of coexistence measures for biotech, conventional and organic agriculture that equally protect the interests of all farmers. Similarly, the EU Commission has stated that Member State marketing bans have not been based on legitimate safety concerns.

The breakdown in the EU's approval process for products made from biotechnology has blocked most U.S. exports of corn and hinders trade in other products. Many food processors and exporters have either reformulated or sought out non-biotech sources in response to the implementation of mandatory traceability and labeling requirements in April 2004. Consumer-ready products have been particularly hard hit. Most European retailers' own-store brands are non-GM, while they may consider carrying private supplier brands containing biotech ingredients. Since labeling hasn't been required for animal products such as meat and dairy, biotech feed ingredients have generally fared better. Reportedly, about 2/3 of the animal feed consumed in the EU is currently labeled as genetically modified. However, some consumer groups are pressuring retailers to carry meat and dairy products produced from non-biotech feed ingredients. Agricultural biotechnology continues to be more of a political than a scientific issue in Europe and the prospects for improvement remain dim.

On August 18, 2006, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration had been notified by Bayer Crop Science that the company had detected trace amounts of a biotech rice known as Liberty Link 601 in samples taken from commercial long grain rice. At the time of the announcement, LL601 was not approved for marketing in the United States nor the EU. The EU is a major export destination for U.S. long grain rice. In CY2005, U.S. exports of rice to the EU-25 equaled $86.5 million, the bulk of whic h was long grain. Since LL601 had not been authorized for marketing in the EU, the Commission introduced emergency measures on August 23 to identify the presence of LL601 in exports of U.S. long grain rice. The measures required that all exports of long grain rice be accompanied with an analytical report stating that the product doesn't contain LL601.

Coincident with the U.S. government's notification to the EU of the presence of LL601 in long grain rice, Greenpeace and the Friends of the Earth reported the week of September 4, 2006 that they had found evidence of a biotech rice in products imported from China. Since that time, Member States have notified the Commission on 12 separate occasions concerning the positive detection of unauthorized GM rice and processed rice products from China. The most recent notification occurred on May 10, 2007. To date, the Commission has not imposed emergency measures mandating the inspection of Chinese rice products at origin in China nor at destination in the EU. All sampling and analysis that has been conducted by Member State authorities has been at their discretion.

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Agri-Biotech Day at Bangalore Bio 2007 Inaugurated

Minister for Agriculture, Government of Karnataka Elaborates Vision for 4.5 % Growth in Agriculture Sector

- Bangalore Bio 2007 (press release), June 9, 2007

http://www.businesswireindia.com/PressRelease.asp?b2mid=12989

Bangalore, Karnataka, India -- Speaking at the occasion of the inauguration of Agri-Biotech Day at the seventh edition of Bangalore Bio 2007, Shri Bandeppa Kashempur, Hon'ble minister for agriculture, Govt. of Karnataka, "We are taking ample measures to propose changes in the agricultural policy. We have a vision of achieving 4.5% growth with the available land inspite of increasing land conversion for industrial and residential purposes." Taking note of the unbalanced equation of production to consumption, he suggested, "New ways of tilling the land and quality seeds will negate farmers resorting to migration to urban areas for income due to less rainfall." He noted that Karnataka has scientific resources to boost the agricultural sector. Underlining the need to increase productivity, he invited entrepreneurs and scientists to join the taskforce. "Currently we are offering a loan of Rs. 25000/head to farmer under 4% interest and subsidy of 75% on seeds. We invite good proposals and innovative schemes, he added."

Elaborating on the need for private-public partnerships to boost agri-biotechnology sector, Mr.Patil, Director, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, stated, "Partnership mode of private and public sectors will give miraculous results. The need of the hour is funding of Rs. 500 crores by the state of Karnataka for agribiotechlogy for investing in development of genes . This will save a lot money by not importing genes from other countries to increase production. The combination of green revolution and gene revolution will work as a wonderful combination to breed by design. This will ensure a leadership position, with it's strong IT and BT backing".

Drawing out the challenges of the Agriculture industry, K.K Narayanan, President, ABLE and Managing director, Metahelix Life Sciences Pvt.ltd, stated, "India has a large extent of Agricultural land (100 million hector) which is second only to USA. Though India is the largest producer of rice with 44 million hectors of land; productivity levels are low. The ratio levels of what can be achieved to what we have today is very meager."

Comparing the growth of other industries vis-à-vis agriculture he pointed out "The growth of other sectors in 2006 is 9% plus - IT services shows a growth rate of 13%, manufacturing 12% and agriculture only 2%. Though 2/3rd of the population is engaged in farming, only ¼th contribute to the GDP, which amounts to less than 1/5 of the total GDP." Appealing for a sustainable model for growth in this sector, he continued, "The average rate of rice growth which is major staple food in India is less than 1.5% in last 10 years, whereas the population growth is 2%. Productivity boost will increase the income of farmers." Enumerating ideas to counter the limitations of quality and productivity, he suggested "Leveraging on planned biology and pool brainpower to accelerate horticulture will lead to potential solutions'', he said.

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Confessions of a biotech bully: How I survived the killer pollen

- Harry Cline, Western Farm Press, June 8, 2007

http://westernfarmpress.com/news/061107-biotech-forage/

Contact: hcline@farmpress.com

I confess: I've walked in fields of biotech alfalfa and lived to tell about it. I've actually touched leaves of the herbicide-resistant forage crop and still have all 10 fingers. I think. Let me count again.

I've traipsed row after row of Bt cotton and come away unscathed, except for spider webs covering my jeans. Those dastardly predators! They were never there in the days when farmers were spraying to kill worms.

Would you believe, I have actually taken cotton bolls off plants and inspected them closely for worm exit holes, and I can still stand upright, walk, and talk? I've photographed the harvest of herbicide-resistant corn; inhaled swirling biotech cornstalk dust and pollen, and here I am - living to type these words. I've even walked into my home wearing a dust-covered shirt, exposing my family to dreaded biotechnology. How foolish.

I actually had an encounter with a mega-marestail, or as some call it, horseweed. Standing tall and menacing as I approached, my instincts told me to steer clear. Thoughts of the killer biotech tomatoes crept into my trembling brain. Nevertheless, I approached the vegetative giant, reached down and yanked the menace from the clutches of the moist soil, and wrestled it out of the field.

I thought of mounting it for my den wall. I suggested to the farmer that he might want to hitch up his rusting cultivator or load the hooded herbicide sprayer tank with paraquat and destroy the remaining horde of marestail. They may be resistant to glyphosate. Can't afford to take a chance that the frightening green fiend may spread.

It has been tough, combating the terrible dangers of biotech agriculture, but amazingly, I have survived and now realize how fortunate I have been to escape.

I have finally come to my senses, thanks to Federal District Court Judge Charles E. Breyer and my friends at the Center for Food Safety, who have shown me the error of my ways.

I was endangering myself in all those places, unprotected by a legal system that is now deciding what may or may not be toxic. I needed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to protect myself, but I was ignorant of the danger. (Now I need to figure how to wear an EIS.)

Foolish me, for relying on scientists worldwide and more government agencies than Carter has pills (you have be over age 60 to get that one) to give me the facts and protect me.

Now, I can rely on the court system and a "watchdog, non-profit" consumer group that constantly panhandle foundations for money, to protect me from all those horrifying biotech dangers. I will now search for fields of weed-choked alfalfa and worm-ravaged cotton or corn to do my future agricultural hiking. No more clean stuff.

I can now rest easy, knowing that the good judge and my friends at the Center for Food Safety are protecting me and organic growers from the unspeakable dangers of biotechnology.

It is amazing I have survived this long.

*************

Crop Biotech Update

- International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), June 8, 2007

http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate/2007/06/08.html#20

Global

Genes Reveal the Epic Journey of Maize

Africa

Analysis of Food Supply, Utilization in Ghana
Maize Farmers in Zimbabwe Need Knowledge of Open-Pollinated Varieties
Efforts to Halt Cassava and Banana Devastation in East and Central Africa Gain Momentum

The Americas

Strategic Approaches to Informing Public about Biotech
New Screening Method to Find Better Biofuel Crops
Alternative Method to Introduce GM Material into Plant
Bayer CropScience to Acquire US cotton Seed Company Stoneville from Monsanto
Designing Edible Films from Milk and Biofuel Byproducts
EPA Approves Non-Cotton Refuge for Bollgard II Cotton
DuPont Technologies to Address Global Demand for Grain; New Traits in the Pipeline

Asia and the Pacific

Scientists in China Develop New QTL Mapping Method to Find Genes
Wild Relatives of Sugarcane Sweeten Breeding Program
Looking For Solution to the Rice Virus Disease Problem in the Mekong Delta
Regulatory Office Seeks Comments on Risk Assessment for GM Cotton
Alternative Selection Systems for Plant Transformation

Europe

Exeter Scientists Examine Role of Wind in GM Cross-Pollination
Germany: Large-Scale Trial of GM Potatoes Approved
EU Opens Doors to GM Carnations from Australia

Research

Bt Tomato with Cry6a Found Resistant to Root-Knot Nematodes
Engineering Papaya with CBF Genes for Cold Tolerance
Applications of Trehalose in Plant Biotech Reviewed

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