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June 18, 2007


Transcontainer Zombie Seeds; Greens serve up fudge; Bollgard to increase output


* Bt cotton seeds to cost more
* Bollgard seeds to increase output
* Drought-tolerant GM cotton, maize
* Indian scientists work for breakthrough
* Lack of funds, regulation affect development of 'Golden rice'
* Greens serve up fudge
* Transcontainer Zombie Seeds


Bt cotton seeds to cost more: AICBA

- Bharat Textile, June 16, 2007


MUMBAI: The New Delhi based representative of 15 seed companies, The All-India Crop Biotechnology Association (AICBA) in a statement stated that various state governments and the seed industry have agreed in principle to an MRP (minimum retail prices) of Rs 925 per 450 gm packet against Rs 750 for Bollgard I cotton seeds, AICBA executive director RK Sinha said.

The association believes that Bollgard II cotton seeds are more effective and need to be priced at a premium to Bollgard I cotton seeds as the Bollgard seed contains a protein from a soil microbe called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), that protects the crop from bollworms and requires less pesticide.

While Bollgard I protects against lepidopteran insect pests, Bollgard II with its unique double gene technology in addition offers protection against spodoptera caterpillar.

The AP agriculture minister N Raghuveera Reddy said that farmers need not pay more than Rs 750 as Bollgard II seeds gave no significant benefit in comparison to earlier Bollgard I variety, while most of the states have agreed to the prices, the Andhra government has asked the farmers not to pay more than Rs 750.

RK Sinha also informed that the prices should be market driven and as the cotton has been removed from Essential Commodities Act price should not be fixed. Bollgard-II reduces the number of pesticide spray and also reduces the insect damage on bolls leading to better boll retention and improved yield, thus it should fetch higher price because of heavy cost on R&D.

The most of states that have agreed in principle to the prices includes Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

On the other hand, farmers are willing to pay high price with the kind of benefits they are getting and though the final estimates of use of Bollgard II and I seeds are yet to come but there has been an increase in sale of Bollgard II seeds over Bollgard in areas.


Bollgard seeds to increase cotton output

- Bharat Textile, June 16, 2007


NEW DELHI: The East India Cotton Association feels that the increase in the use of genetically altered seeds by the farmers may rise the domestic cotton output by 7 percent in the cotton year starting October 2007, executive, O.P. Agarwal said here on June 12.

He clarified that the production may rise to 29 million bales of 170kg (375 pounds) each as planting of modified cotton expands to cover two-thirds of the nation's 9 million hectare (22 million acre) growing area.

There are indications of the crop being 28-29 million bales next year as the use of genetically modified seeds is set to help higher output.

Further, farmers in the northern Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan planted modified cotton seeds, including Monsanto's Bollgard II variety, on at least 10 percent more land.

The Bollgard seed contains a protein from a soil microbe called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, that protects the crop from bollworms and requires less pesticide. The cotton futures for December delivery fell 45 cents, or 0.8%, to $57.29 a pound on the New York Board of Trade. The contract rose to 57.74 cents a pound on 11 June, the highest closing price for a most active contract since 12 June 2006.

On the other hand, D.K. Nair, secretary general of the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry (CITI) informed that a lot will depend on the rains the cotton-growing states such as Gujarat and Maharashtra receive; whereas more than two-thirds of domestic cotton crop is still rain-fed.


Monsanto coming out with drought-tolerant GM cotton, maize

- The Hindu, June 17, 2007


Mumbai: US biotech major Monsanto, which had earlier launched insect-resistant genetically modified BT cotton, plans to soon come out with drought-tolerant GM maize and cotton seeds, a senior company official said.

The drought-tolerant cotton and maize seeds were already undergoing field trials in the US. Once launched in India, it would help farmers as most of the agriculture in the country was rain-fed, Rajendra Ketkar, deputy managing director of Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Ltd, told PTI.

Monsanto was also developing weed-resistant GM cotton seeds, for which trials were going on in Australia, Ketkar said, adding this would take a couple of years.

India's farm productivity is as low as one-third of the world average and raising yield using hybrid and genetically modified variety would help the country to raise output three times without bringing additional area under cultivation.

Ketkar claimed four million farmers have switched over to genetically modified BT cotton (bollgard) in nine states and nearly half of the 22 million acres under cotton cultivation in the country was now using this variety.

On the drought-resistant varieties, he said "this would be a great boost to farmers located in highly dry areas or who just depend on irrigation for their farming".

The field trials for maize (corn) were being carried out in the US and cotton trait was undergoing testing, he said, adding Monsanto makes huge investment in research and development, almost USD 700 million globally.

Ketkar said after the success of Bollgard I in terms of productivity, quality and economics in the last decade, the company has developed a superior trait Bollgard II and trials in over two-lakh acres have been held.


Indian scientists work for food breakthrough

- Zee News, June 17, 2007


Bangalore: Metahelix Life Sciences, a biotech firm founded by five Indian scientists in 2001, says it is doing research that may lead to the development of insect-protected rice and high-yield corn.

Avesthagen, which like Metahelix is based in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, is working to devise better-yielding oilseeds and improve the tolerance of food crops to drought and salinity.

But a breakthrough is eluding a two-billion-dollar biotechnology industry struggling to replicate the success of BT cotton, which helped turn India into a net cotton exporter from a net importer in four years.

Biotech companies like Metahelix and Avesthagen use micro-organisms such as bacteria or substances like enzymes to make drugs and synthetic hormones, speed up industrial processes and devise better crop varieties.

"BT cotton is the hero of today, there are more waiting in the wings," Metahelix Managing Director K.K. Narayanan, a trained plant breeder, said in an interview in Bangalore, the hub of India's biotechnology industry.

"They are coming," is what Avesthagen CEO Villoo Patell told agencies about the would-be successors to BT cotton on the food production front.

Neither Narayanan nor Patell was willing to hazard a guess as to when the breakthrough will come, even as the biotech industry faces calls to help reverse a decline in food production that forced the country of 1.1 billion people to import wheat last year for the first time in six years.

"No country as large as India can afford to meet its food requirements through imports when we ought to be self-sufficient," Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told Bangalore Bio, the annual biotech industry event, on June 7.

Two-thirds of Indians depend on farming for a living, yet food output is growing slower than the population, said the minister, implicitly criticising biotech firms for not doing enough to boost agriculture.

Manufacturing, including car producers, is expanding 12 percent and the services sector, such as mobile-phone service providers, 13 percent, contributing to record economic growth of 9.4 percent in the year ended March.

But the rate of agricultural growth fell from five percent in the mid-1980s to less than two percent in the past five years.

Annual per capita food grain production declined from 207 kilograms (455 pounds) in 1995 to 186 kilos last year, ominous for a country that wants to double food output in 10 years.

India, the world's second-largest wheat producer, exported none last year and had to resort to imports this year after output fell short of domestic demand.

Despite the Indian economy speeding ahead at a sizzling pace in recent years, thousands of debt-ridden farmers commit suicide every year because of distress caused by crop failures.

That's worrisome for the Congress-led coalition government that came to power in 2004 on the promise of boosting the rural economy and the livelihoods of farmers.

Last month Singh said the government would spend six billion dollars to try to help poor farmers by investing in technology and infrastructure to bring crops to market more efficiently.

"Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, said at the time of independence (in 1947) that anything can wait but agriculture can't; that statement is relevant today," said Ganesh Kishore, managing director of Burrill and Company.

"India is now at a point where there's no self-sufficiency in food," Kishore added. "Biotech holds the key."

India's biotech industry, touted as the next big thing after software, has had the most success in the field of drugs, with low-cost treatments for health problems ranging from cholesterol to cancer.

But the industry has yet to turn aggressively to one of the country's most pressing problems, farming, which one newspaper editorial said was a decision to focus on profits over people.

But there have been some successes. India adopted the commercial sowing of BT cotton in 2001, resulting in one of its most dramatic gains in agriculture since independence in 1947.

The country has an estimated four million cotton farmers, and some 60 million people depend on cotton and the textile industry to make a living.

The average yield has increased since then from 140 kilos per hectare to 478 kilos in the last cotton-growing year, said Metahelix's Narayanan.

BT seeds are enhanced with a naturally occurring soil protein -- Bacillus thuringiensis -- to ward off bollworm pests that used to eat up 80 percent of the crops of farmers.

But since BT cotton, the biotech industry's agricultural cupboard has been bare of trophies, partly because of regulatory delays that prevent products from coming quickly to the market, said Narayanan.

There are also concerns about food produced with biotechnology, he said.

For politicians, that is a lame excuse.

"For humans, the basic thing is food, which biotech is neglecting," said Bandeppa Kashempur, Agriculture Minister of Karnataka state whose capital is Bangalore. "The agrarian crisis day by day is growing."


Lack of funds, regulation affect development of 'Golden rice'

- Joseph Vackayil, The Financial Express (India), June 18, 2007


CHENNAI: Perceived risks, extreme precautionary regulations and hypothetical risks from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and poor public sector funding are delaying the development of the "Golden rice" into a commercial reality, according to one of its creators, Ingo Potrykus, Emeritus Professor of Plant Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich.

Though he, along with his co-founder, Peter Beyer, had donated the Golden Rice for development and cultivation in the developing countries, no significant progress has been made in its adoption or commercial cultivation, because of these factors, Portykus says in an article to be published in a World Bank report.

Golden rice is a strain genetically modified to include a vitamin-A precursor designed to reduce the ravages of blindness among many people in poor countries, including India.

Since the golden rice prototype was developed in 1999, new lines with higher beta carotene content has been generated. The goal is to be capable of providing the recommended daily allowance of vitamin-A in the form of beta-carotene in 100-200 gm of rice, the amount of daily rice consumption of children in rice consuming counties like India, Vietnam, Bangladesh.

In other countries golden rice could still be available as a complement to children's diets, thus contributing to the reduction of clinical and sub clinical vitamin-A deficiency.

According to WHO dietary, vitamin-A deficiency causes some 2.5 lakh to 5 lakh children to go blind every year.

In golden rice two genes have been inserted into rice genome by genetic engineering. This helps the accumulation of beta-carotene, precursor to vitamin-A, in the grains.

He says poor funding from the public sector, since the private sector would not be interested to work on pro-poor traits and crops, is delaying the commercial development of the golden rice.

According to Professor Portrykus, though there are no scientific justification, "perceived risks" are a major barrier. He says that "after 25 years of biosafety research and regulation there is a wealth of clear scientific evidence as well as a scientific consensus that there is no inherent and specific risk associated with the technology. If someone claims the contrary, either he/she does not know the scientific literature or is lying. But I agree that there is the perception of risk which has to be accepted as a psychological fact. It should be up to governments to inform their people about what is right and what is wrong."

However, the cause for the "slow progress" , the professor says, "is the system of "extreme precautionary regulation" established around the world.


Irish Greens serve up fudge on GM food

- Shane Morris, GMOIreland, June 14, 2007


After ten years of gnawing and spitting regarding GM food/crops the Irish Green Party gave up on their main GMO policies to enter Government in Ireland (the Greens won six seats in the 166 seat Irish Parliament in the recent general election).

The Green's pre-election policy had nine clear points (see below) that led with a promise to "immediately declare Ireland to be a GM-Free zone and prohibit the use of GM ingredients in animal feed and any testing or growing of GM crops and ban transgenic farm animals". This promise, along with others, including a GM-Free regulatory authority to ensure that rigorous testing is put in place to verify that animal feed is free of GM inputs, have now been set aside. Now left is only a watered down vague one line sentence within a 52 page agreement for a Government program. The Greens now just commit to "Seek to negotiate the establishment of an All-Ireland GM-Free Zone". This wording was agreed upon as part of a deal to enter into coalition with Fianna Fail, who while in Government have previously allowed GM fields trials and who a Green party elected official has described as "the devil".

The commitment to simply "seek to negotiate" is the epitome of biopolitics. It is very clear the likelihood of a truly GM free zone for Ireland is zero considering that in Ireland BASF already has an EPA license to carry out field trials of blight resistant GM potatoes until 2010 if they decided to and the fact that the EU this week voted to allow more GM material into food products, including organic products. However, the Greens in government now open a real debate on GM crops in Ireland as the Greens have encountered what Urlich Beck in "Ecological Politics in an Age of Risk" (1995) described as "politically explosive hazards which render questionable the principles of calculation and precaution". This will no doubt make for interesting discussions around the Government cabinet table.

Its obvious that the Green Party in Ireland has sacrificed clear actionable commitments on GM food for inclusion in Government (not a first as the Greens in Government in Germany allowed GM crop field trials). The fudge on GMO's is topped off with a weak verbal comment by the Green's Trevor Sargent that "The establishment of Ireland as a GMO-free zone is a project that I will throw myself into in a very enthusiastic fashion..." However, he is now part of a Government, of which the main political party, Fianna Fail, ten years ago made the pre-election promise to put in place:

"A moratorium on the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment and on the marketing of any foods which contain any genetically modified ingredient, or which was produced using any genetically modified organism"

only to state less than two years later that:

"Stability and predictability in policy are also important in terms of underpinning the competitiveness of the biotechnology sector... The area of Irish economic interest where biotechnology, particularly modern biotechnology / genetic modification, has greatest potential is in agriculture...".

It is evident that biopolitics is alive and well on the isle of "Forty shades of Green", a title now politically more fitting than Johnny Cash could have ever imagined.

Pre-Election policy:

The Green Party/Comhaontas Glas in Government would-

1.1 immediately declare Ireland to be a GM-Free zone and prohibit the use of GM ingredients in animal feed and any testing or growing of GM crops and ban transgenic farm animals;

1.2 immediately begin negotiations with the UK government in an attempt to achieve an all island GM-Free Zone;

1.3 establish a GM-Free regulatory authority to ensure that rigorous testing is put in place to verify that animal feed is free of GM inputs;

1.4 veto any EU proposed legislation that would allow a certain threshold for GM contamination in conventional seeds before the seeds had to be labelled as containing GM traces;

1.5 oppose the patenting of seeds;

1.6 ensure that the Irish Seed Savers Association receives adequate funding. (This voluntary organisation is dedicated to the location and preservation of traditional varieties of fruit and vegetables. The ISSA maintains a seed bank and plays a vital role in saving our genetic diversity for the future.) We will also ensure that naturally occurring or conventionally bred rare and native varieties of seed can be freely sold.

1.7 introduce strict liability laws, holding GM companies and users of GM crops responsible for any GM contamination in Ireland in violation of Ireland's GM-free status;

1.8 At a local level, Green Party members of Local Authorities will campaign to make their Local Authorities GM-Free and assist local farmers to organise into GM-Free regions;

1.9 At EU level, Green Party MEPs will campaign to make the EU GM-Free and, at a minimum, to insist there is no lifting of the EU moratorium on GM crops and food until the new EU regulations on labelling and traceability are in place; there is an enforceable system of liability agreed; and the problems of coexistence of GM and non-GM crops have been resolved.


'Zombie crops' funded by British taxpayers to 'get round' GM ban

- Geoffrey Lean, The Independent on Sunday (UK), June 17, 2007


"Zombie" GM crops - so called because farmers will have to pay biotech companies to bring seeds back from the dead - are being developed with British taxpayers' money.


Suicide-Seed Sequel: EU's "Transcontainer" Turns Terminator into Zombie

- Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (formerly RAFI), June 13, 2007

ETC Group today releases "Terminator: The Sequel," a Communiqué reporting on new research related to "suicide seeds" and other genetically modified (GM) seed technologies that pose unacceptable threats to farmers, biodiversity and food sovereignty.


What is Transcontainer?

- Plant Research International B.V., Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Research Institute for Vegetable Crops (Istituto Sperimentale per l'Orticoltura - ISO - RIVC), Vienna University, University of Milan, National University of Ireland, Wageningen University, Institute of Plant Genetics-Research (CNR-IGV), [German] Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, University of Plovdiv (Bulgaria), Schenkelaars Biotechnology Consultancy, SweTree Technologies AB, DLF-Trifolium A/S


Transcontainer is a three-year European research project, which comprises 13 partners from universities, research and government institutes, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and an industrial partner. Transcontainer is partly funded from the European Commission Directorate-General Research Sixth Framework Programme. The project proposal was based on the specific objectives stated in the work program for priority 5 ("Food Quality and Safety", area T5.4.6.7 on page 17), published by the European Commission (Click here).

What is the overall goal of Transcontainer?

The overall goal of Transcontainer is to develop genetically modified (GM) crop plants that are 'biologically contained', in order to reduce significantly the potential spread of transgenes of such GM crop plants to conventional and organic crop plants and to wild or weedy relatives, when such exist. Co-existence of GM crops and non-GM crops can be promoted through implementation of biological transgene containment strategies, while at the same time the potential flow of transgenes from GM crops to wild relatives can be reduced significantly. Both in Europe and the United States the issue of transgene containment is becoming increasingly important. Also the World Resource Institute (WRI) has recently stated that designing strategies for preventing (trans)genes from moving into genomes of related species should be of highest priority (Click here). Parallel to the development of these strategies, Transcontainer will also study the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts of the use of such strategies in Europe.

Which biological containment strategies will be investigated and developed by Transcontainer?

Transcontainer will investigate and develop the following biological containment technologies: 1) Plastid transformation; 2) Prevention of flowering, and 3) Controlling transgene transmission through pollen and seed. Notably, these biological containment technologies will be complemented with tightly controllable switches to restore fertility. In the case of plastid transformation, there is no need to apply such switches, because the fertility of the crop will not be impaired. The crops to be used are representative for crops grown for their seeds (oilseed rape), for their fruits (tomato and eggplant), or for their vegetative parts (sugar beet, rye grass, red fescue, poplar and birch), and because of their relevance to European agriculture. For some of these crops, several biological containment strategies will be compared.


Guest ed. note: The ETC. Group, which invented 'Terminator' Terminology, has once again taken what appears to be a self-contradictory position on engineered crops. No cogent explanation of its position has to date emerged, aside from suggestions that the group is merely against corporations.

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