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June 28, 2007


The Brown Potato Chip; Toxicity tests are tricky; Data on safflower-derived insulin; Point of no return


The Brown Potato Chip; Toxicity tests are tricky; Data on safflower-derived insulin; Point of no return

* Preventing The Brown Potato Chip
* Positive data on safflower-derived insulin
* Point of no return
* Kenya approves field trails
* Ending biodiesel's glycerin glut
* Biotechnology the African way
* Banning GM food 'totalitarian'
* S. Korea to tighten regulations
* China - Ag GMO Measures
* Toxicity tests are tricky
* Q & A on Bt-cotton
* BioAsia 2007 Thailand


Preventing The Brown Potato Chip In The Bag

- Science Daily, June 27, 2007


You can say goodbye to the unpopular brown potato chip, thanks to a University of Guelph scientist who has found an enzyme that ensures potatoes stay golden when cooked.

Food scientist Rickey Yada has discovered an enzyme in a particular potato variety that prevents chips made from cold-stored Ontario potatoes from browning.

"Not very many people like brown chips because they don't look as appetizing and they taste bitter," said Yada, who worked with a team of researchers in Guelph's departments of Food Science and Plant Agriculture. "We've basically found an enzyme that prevents the chemical reaction that leads to browning."

The cold temperatures needed for long-term storage of potatoes cause the starch in spuds to break down into smaller sugar molecules. It's the reaction between these sugars and the extreme heat of deep frying that causes browning.

"The longer you refrigerate potatoes, the more starch converts to sugar to cause the browning," Yada said.

Yada has found an enzyme in a certain variety that allows the potato to be stored at colder temperatures without turning brown.

The enzyme he and his team discovered helps convert the broken-down sugars into other molecules, reducing the browning effect. Called pyruvate decarboxylase, the enzyme was found in a potato from North Dakota.

Yada said introducing the gene for the enzyme into local potato varieties will enable producers to store them at a lower temperature, allowing for a year-round supply for chip production without the high percentage of browning. This would be a big plus not only for the avid chip eater but also for the $26.8-million chip industry in Ontario. Currently, about 10 to 15 per cent of the potatoes stored for chip production turn brown, according to the Ontario Potato Board.

"Since Ontario chip manufacturers suffer from having just a single harvest season, we can't keep enough domestic supply and end up importing potatoes from other provinces and the United States," said Yada.

"But if we are able to store potatoes at a lower temperature, then we can store them longer and replace the imported portion with a local supply." He and a team of researchers are currently working towards introducing the gene for the enzyme into Ontario potato varieties.


SemBioSys presents positive preclinical data on safflower-derived insulin

- Canada East, June 26, 2007


SemBioSys Genetics Inc. (TSX:SBS) says its technique to derive insulin from genetically modified safflower produces a compound "physically, structurally and physiologically indistinguishable from pharmaceutical-grade human recombinant insulin."

The Calgary biotechnology company also said in preclinical findings presented at the American Diabetes Association convention in Chicago that it exceeded its commercial target for insulin accumulation in safflower.

Laboratory results and animal tolerance tests demonstrate "the functional equivalence of the company's safflower-produced insulin to insulin reference standard," SemBioSys stated Tuesday.

The results "validate the feasibility of our plant production technology for the large-scale manufacture of human insulin," said company president Andrew Baum.

Baum added that plants are ideally suited to large-volume, high-demand products such as human insulin, and SemBioSys now intends to start a Phase 2 trial in early 2008 "with commercialization of safflower-produced insulin scheduled for as early as 2010."

SemBioSys estimates demand for insulin will double by 2012, fuelled by a swelling incidence of diabetes, growing use in the developing world and adoption of alternative insulin delivery technologies which need more insulin than traditional injection.


GM crops: 'Point of no return in ten years'

- Sybille de la Hamaide, The Scotsman, June 26, 2007


EUROPE will increase its genetically modified (GMO) crop area by 50,000-100,000 hectares a year over the next decade, US biotech giant Monsanto has said.

"It will be slow but within ten years GMOs will have reached the point of no return," said Jean-Michel Duhamel, Monsanto's director for southern Europe.

"The technology will not impose itself on consumers but consumers will better understand the usefulness of GMO technology as farmers increasingly adopt it," he added.

In France, the world's largest seed maker, GMO maize - the only biotech crop allowed in the country - was expected to be grown on 600,000 hectares in ten years, against 25,000 in 2007, despite fierce opposition to GMOs in the country.

"It is more complicated in France than elsewhere but if we reach a 50 per cent rise (in area) per year it wouldn't be bad, as at world level we expect it to rise 20 per cent," Duhamel said.

French consumers are well known for their scepticism, if not hostility, to GMO crops. "Within the next few years there will likely be some turbulence," Duhamel said. "Consumers receive false information on what GMO crops are so they are afraid. But I'm sure that within ten years they will have accepted them."

This year, French farmers have sown 25,000 hectares of special maize, which has been modified to resist insect pests.


Kenya: NBC approves field trails on genetically engineered cotton variety

- Bharat Textile, June 28, 2007


NAIROBI: The field trials on a new genetically engineered cotton variety meant to be pest-resistant and higher yielding than traditional types has been approved by the National Biosafety Committee (NBC).

The National Biosafety Committee (NBC) in conjunction with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) have recommended the introduction of Bollgard II, an enhanced earlier type called Bollgard I that was tested between 2003 and 2005.

However, the introduction of new cotton seed, known as Bollgard II, marks major progress in the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops in an industry that has been dogged by low production and pest infestation.

The new variety offered by the US-based agriculture technology firm Monsanto is expected to save farmers up to 32 percent in production costs, as it removes the need for pesticides required for conventional cotton farming.

Further, a Kenyan scientist, Dr Charles Waturu assured that NBC has approved testing of Bollgard II as the variety is toxic to key pests including the Africa bollworm, the most important pest of cotton in Kenya.

The chemicals are identical to those that have been used for decades in commercial anti-bollworm sprays, but that to released by the plants themselves are more effective. The expression of Bt-toxins in cotton plants greatly reduces the need for application of broad-spectrum insecticides, minimising the negative effect of the insecticides on the natural enemies of cotton pests.

The main objective of the Bt-cotton project is to establish the efficacy of the Bollgard I and Bollgard II genes on lepidopteran worm pests of cotton, as per Dr Waturu.

Further, the trials also aim to look at the impact of the modified plants on non-harmful, beneficial species of plants and insects, that environmentalists fear could be negatively affected.

The scientist added the research would examine the risk of the Bt-cotton inter crossing with commercial cotton varieties as the research into genetically modified (GM) options was spurred by the high costs of traditional cotton growing that had led to poorer farming practices.

Since 1998, research into various crops such as maize, cotton and sweet potato has been conducted in the country, but a biosafety draft Bill read in Parliament in 2005 has yet to be made into law.


Rice University Biotech breakthrough could end biodiesel's glycerin glut

Rice engineers find way to make ethanol, valuable chemicals from waste glycerin

- Rice University (press release), June 26, 2007


HOUSTON, June 26, 2007 -- With U.S. biodiesel production at an all-time high and a record number of new biodiesel plants under construction, the industry is facing an impending crisis over waste glycerin, the major byproduct of biodiesel production. New findings from Rice University suggest a possible answer in the form of a bacterium that ferments glycerin and produces ethanol, another popular biofuel.

"We identified the metabolic processes and conditions that allow a known strain of E. coli to convert glycerin into ethanol," said chemical engineer Ramon Gonzalez. "It's also very efficient. We estimate the operational costs to be about 40 percent less that those of producing ethanol from corn."

Gonzalez said the biodiesel industry's rapid growth has created a glycerin glut. The glut has forced glycerin producers like Dow Chemical and Procter and Gamble to shutter plants, and Gonzalez said some biodiesel producers are already unable to sell glycerin and instead must pay to dispose of it.

"One pound of glycerin is produced for every 10 pounds of biodiesel," said Gonzalez, Rice's William Akers Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. "The biodiesel business has tight margins, and until recently, glycerin was a valuable commodity, one that producers counted on selling to ensure profitability."

Researchers across the globe are racing to find ways to turn waste glycerin into profit. While some are looking at traditional chemical processing -- finding a way to catalyze reactions that break glycerin into other chemicals -- others, including Gonzalez, are focused on biological conversion. In biological conversion, researchers engineer a microorganism that can eat a specific chemical feedstock and excrete something useful. Many drugs are made this way, and the chemical processing industry is increasingly finding bioprocessing to be a "greener," and sometimes cheaper, alternative to chemical processing.

In a review article in the June issue of Current Opinion in Biotechnology, Gonzalez points out that very few microorganisms are capable of digesting glycerin in an oxygen-free environment. This oxygen-free process -- known as anaerobic fermentation -- is the most economical and widely used process for biological conversion.

"We are confident that our findings will enable the use of E. coli to anaerobically produce ethanol and other products from glycerin with higher yields and lower costs than can be obtained using common sugar-based feedstocks like glucose and xylose," Gonzalez said.


Taking on biotechnology the African way

- Jennifer Thomson, SciDev.net, June 27, 2007


Africa must be free to explore the potential of agricultural biotechnology without undue European influence, says Jennifer Thomson.

African Union leaders took an important step in acknowledging the potential of biotechnology to help agricultural development earlier this year when they endorsed the Freedom to Innovate plan. The plan emphasises the need for Africa to find a unified approach to agricultural biotechnology research and biosafety regulation.

But while the plan represents enthusiasm for biotechnology at the continent's highest levels, Africa's ability to effectively implement it on the ground remains to be seen. Much will rely on how national governments and their electorates perceive key technologies or products, such as genetically modified (GM) crops.

Many Africans - scientists, politicians and farmers alike - recognise the need to support any technology that will help feed the continent's poor. But in Europe people often throw their hands up in horror at the idea of growing or consuming GM crops.

Europe should not pontificate on what is good or bad for Africans - we can do this for ourselves.

Still, many African leaders unfortunately look to Europe for advice, as this is where our greatest export markets lie. When they see Europe turning its back on GM crops they can assume there must be something seriously wrong with them. What Europeans say matters on our continent - they should think carefully before speaking out against GM crops.

Notches on the GM belt

GM crops have already started to make a difference in securing food supplies and alleviating poverty across Africa. Engineering key crops to be insect or virus resistant has led to a decreased use of agrochemicals, increased yields and higher returns - for commercial farmers and smallholders alike.

Maize is one of the most important sources of calories for Africa's poor, as well as being a key crop for cattle feed. But it is susceptible to damage from parasitic weeds like Striga, viruses such as the maize streak virus (MSV) and pests - stem-boring insects cause significant yield losses of 15-40 per cent in Africa and can even result in total crop failure if conditions favour infestation.

Biotechnology can help insure against such losses. In South Africa, ongoing glasshouse trials for maize engineered to resist MSV have provided encouraging results for creating commercial varieties.

Similarly, field trials in Kenya using a non-GM variety of maize resistant to the herbicide imazapyr - effective against Striga - have proven very successful.

Striga infests as much as 40 million hectares of smallholder farmland in sub-Saharan Africa, affecting the livelihoods of over 100 million people and causing annual crop losses estimated to be worth US$1 billion. The weed attacks crop roots and is almost impossible to remove through conventional weeding techniques.

Coating maize seeds in imazapyr, though, is an effective way of killing the weed without impacting the crop's health. The Kenyan field trials have reported yield increases of 38-82 per cent compared with traditional varieties.

Commercial farmers planting insect-resistant GM maize in South Africa have also seen an increase in their yields. This has led to rising incomes - with net gains ranging from US$24 per hectare in dryland areas to US$143 in irrigated regions - despite the higher costs associated with using GM seeds.

Success on the small scale?

Could small-scale farmers also benefit from planting GM maize for home consumption? In theory, GM maize could help small-scale farmers ensure a steady food supply for themselves while simultaneously increasing yields and providing their families with a previously unavailable source of income.

But with such a large difference in price - GM seeds cost $83 per kilogram compared with $52 per kilogram for conventional seeds - the answer is probably no, unless the farmers already buy non-GM hybrid seeds from seed companies each year.

Still, only ten per cent of small-scale farmers currently use hybrid seeds across Africa as a whole, although the figure is much higher for some individual countries - 85 per cent in Kenya, 65 per cent in Zambia and 91 per cent in Zimbabwe.

Only time will tell if the benefits associated with higher yields overcome the higher cost of GM seeds for small-scale as well as commercial farmers.

In the case of cotton, the benefits of GM varieties to small-scale farmers are more obvious. Insect attack is one of the major constraints to cotton cultivation worldwide, with yield losses worth an estimated US$5 billion annually. Approximately 25 per cent of all insecticides used in agriculture are applied to cotton - more than any other crop. In some Central and West African countries, this figure can reach staggering levels - as high as 80 per cent.

UK scientists from the University of Reading have been weighing the economic costs and benefits of insect-resistant Bt cotton in South Africa for a number of years. Seeds for this crop were commercially released in 1997 and have since been extensively used in KwaZulu-Natal province where, by 2001, 90 per cent of all farmers were growing GM cotton.

Many of the traditional insecticides used here are highly toxic. By switching to GM cotton, small-scale farmers in the region have lowered risks to their own health and decreased the levels of chemical insecticides entering the local environment. Smallholder farmers in this region have also received a 77 per cent higher return on GM cotton.

An African action plan

The UK scientists found that, in general, the smaller the farm, the greater the benefits in terms of higher income received.

But, as the authors note, GM cotton is not a silver bullet that can solve poverty among these farmers overnight. Efforts must be made to improve soil conditions, road and rail infrastructure, and educate farmers to help them implement best agricultural practices.

Still, GM technology holds much promise for improving the lot of African small-scale and commercial farmers alike. The continent's leaders should be applauded for their recognition of this potential in their endorsement of the Freedom to Innovate plan. But now they must be given the freedom to implement the plan without fear of undue criticism from European sceptics.

Jennifer Thomson is a professor of microbiology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.


Banning GM food 'a step towards totalitarian state'

- Peter Wynne Davies, EurActiv, June 26, 2007



Concerning the letter A big 'No' to GMOs, people in Europe should have a choice as to what food they buy. The extensive labelling and traceability laws on food containing GMOs and the rules on organic food provide just that. I do not buy organic food, as I am doubtful that it has any benefit and I know how toxic chemicals can be used in the production of organic potatoes, for example.

Often I hear the comment from organic producers that no-one wants GM food. If that is the case, why then have farmers in eight EU countries this year cultivated a quarter of a million acres of biotech food for the European market? There have been endless scientific studies from all over the globe for many years that show the benefits of this new technology. If people do not wish to buy it, then that is fine, but banning such food across the EU is a step towards a totalitarian state.


Gov't to tighten regulations on genetically modified organisms in 2008

- Lee Joon-seung, Yonhap News, June 26, 2007


SEOUL -- South Korea plans to tighten its regulatory oversight of all genetically modified living organisms sold in the country starting in 2008, the government said Tuesday.

The rules call for more stringent evaluations of living modified organism (LMO) products, labelling requirements and handling, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy said.


China, Peoples Republic of - Agricultural GMO Implementation Measures

- Wu Bugang, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (GAIN Report CH7053), June 27, 2007


Report Highlights: This is an UNOFFICIAL translation of China's Ag GMO implementation measures as issued by the Ministry of Agriculture in Decrees 8, 9 and 10. These measures were modified slightly in 2004 and this report is an updated version of the previous report (CH2002) that reflects the modifications.


The following three documents are the implementation measures to the People's Republic of China Agricultural GMO Regulation (CH1056): Measures on the Safety Evaluation Administration of Agricultural GMOs, Measures on Agricultural GMO Import Administration, and Measures on the Administration of Agricultural GMO Labeling. These measures were published on January 5, 2002 in Decrees 8, 9 and 10 by the Ministry of Agriculture and were slightly modified in 2004. This report overrides CH2002 with the modifications that mainly include: a) timeline to respond to an application for safety evaluation (Article 16 of Decree 8), b) imported agricultural GMOs for direct consumption to follow the review procedures of import agricultural GMOs for use as processing materials (Article 17 of Decree 9), and c) timeline to process a labeling request for agricultural GMOs.

[cut; for full report in .pdf or Word format go to link above]


Toxicity tests are tricky for tyro toxicologists to try.

- GMOPundit a.k.a. David Tribe, June 27, 2007



GMO Pundit's comment If he were a rat, he'd prefer to live in Tokyo rather than Moscow. He'd also eat Japanese chow, - GM or non-GM - rather than the stuff they sell at Moscow markets.


A seminar given by visiting toxicologist Dr Hiroaki AOYAMA in Melbourne June 26th 2007 (see also a previous GMO Pundit post) revealed why it is so very difficult to find out whether foods are unsafe by using rat feeding experiments to reveal lack of safety.

Such animal feeding tests have to be done according to very exacting protocols if they are to give meaningful results, needing hard work, a high level scientific expertise, and lots of money.

Rat feeding trials are in fact fundamentally ill suited to testing foods for safety. Thy are much better used where there is plausible evidence of a particular toxic effect, and to test a well defined idea about a particular known toxic chemical, such as dichlorophenol .

In the latter situation, given the need to filter out unavoidable, random, and unknown background influences on rat growth and reproduction, experiments can be designed with different and appropriate chemical doses, and responses to increasing doses can be exploited reveal actual causes for observed effects. Not so with foods. Testing of foods in rats has relatively meagre statistical power.

In other words, in the rat house, finding stuff you can confidently believe is expensive and challenging.

In his recent Melbourne seminar Dr Aoyama detailed these exacting requirements for performing and interpreting dietary toxicity in rats. The reason for his presentation was to provide better understanding of recent controversial claims that Russian investigator Dr Irina Ermakova has made at a conference on transgenic crops.


Irina Ermakova: Influence of genetically modified soya on the birth-weight and survival of rat pups, in Proceedings of the Conference Epigenetics, Transgenic Plants& RiskAssessment December 1st 2005, Literaturhaus, Frankfurt am Main, Germany (pdf file)


Ermakova's rat experiments have been used to question whether GM soy-meal is safe for humans to eat.

In his Melbourne seminar, Dr Aoyama pointed out several features of Ermakova's experimental findings, that suggest that the general rat handling conditions used in her laboratory are the the cause of rat deaths she reported, and that they are not caused by the use of GM soy as she claims. He also discussed the features of Ermakovas experiments which mean that they are badly designed.

Aoyama's Japanese government laboratory has extensive experience in toxicology testing and has reported many well designed experiments which provide a good model for how rat feeding trials should be carried out, and illustrate how they can be useful.


e.g. Hiroaki AOYAMA, Hitoshi HOJO, Ken L. TAKAHASHI, Naoko SHIMIZU, Masayuki ARAKI, Michiko HARIGAE, Naoki TANAKA, Noriko SHIRASAKA, Maki KUWAHARA, Nobuaki NAKASHIMA, Eri YAMAMOTO, Machiko SAKA and Shoji TERAMOTO: "A TWO-GENERATION REPRODUCTIVE TOXICITY STUDY OF 2,4-DICHLOROPHENOL IN RATS": J. Toxicol. Sci., Vol. 30: No. Special, S59-78. (2005) .


In this Journal of Toxicological Science study, Aoyama uses a recommended 20 rats in any one test group to test an experimental diet for toxicity. Ermakova's study used only 3 or 4 rats, making it of weak statistical value.

Importantly, Aoyama points out that Ermakova's control or "non-GM feed" groups of rats show great variability themselves (that is, even when rats are not exposed to GM soy in their diets) and this variability provides an obvious indication of inappropriate handling conditions in her Russian laboratory.

Thus even in the control groups of rats (not fed GM soy) the range of pup weights seen by Ermkova was extremely variable. This extreme variability contrasts with the narrow range of pup weight in rat litters he sees in comparable litters (that is pup weight averadge 38.8 g, SD 2.6 for males, Average 37.2g SD 2.5 for females at 2 weeks) in his Japanese research institute investigations.

Ermakova's questionable handling of experimental variability was also a subject of critical comment. According to Aoyama, there is a need to consider at growth of male and female rats separately. Because of significant natural variability in pup weight, the average weight of a litter, rather than individual pup weight should be used as a measure of toxic effects. Ermokova pooled data of males and females, and does not use litter averages as a measure of toxic effects.


The Pundit Postcript:

Lets just remember that at NIH they test toxins on lawyers, because they found that lawyers will do things that even a rat won't do.

But in Moscow, legal ethics are much worse, so the rats still bear the brunt of the Soviet tradition for brutal public accommodation.


Q & A on Bt-cotton in India: Answers to more than 70 questions on all aspects.

- Manjunath, T. M. 2007. All India Crop Biotechnology Association, New Delhi, 78 pages.

Q & A on Bt-cotton in India is now a free download available online at http://www.aicba.com/qa.pdf

Excerpt from the preface:

Being a new technology, several doubts have been raised, mostly due to a lack of proper understanding of the technology or vested interests, creating confusion in the minds of farmers and general public. Therefore, there is need for clarifying these based on scientific facts and placing everything in its proper perspective. Based on my interaction with diverse stakeholders and my own experience, I have made an attempt to fulfill this gap. For the sake of convenience, the information on various aspects of Bt-cotton has been unfolded in the form of answers to more than 70 questions, divided into several sections such as bollworms, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), development of Bt-cotton, efficacy, safety, insect resistance management, field performance and adoption, costs and benefits, opposition to Bt-cotton, legal and illegal seeds, regulation etc. While doing so, I have tried to simplify science. The statistics provided in this book may change from year to year, but the basic scientific principles related to the technology would remain more or less the same. I hope this publication will be useful to various scientists, policy makers, seed companies, journalists, NGOs, students, teachers, extension workers and, above all, progressive farmers.


BioAsia 2007 Thailand

- Bangkok, November 7 - 9, 2007; pre-conference seminars November 5 - 6


This conference and exhibition event is expected to provide the platform for biotechnology on its claim to be the gateway to a sustainable future. BioAsia 2007 Thailand will feature the 6th Asian Crop Science Association Conference and the 2nd International Conference on Rice for the Future as its two main highlights.

Coming from different countries, world-renowned experts in the field of food, agriculture, health, industrial, and environmental aspects will grace this event. Some 5,000 to 8,000 trade visitors from 20 countries are also expected to attend this event making Bangkok as one of the major venues for holding such grand conference and exhibition.

The Seminars will focus on the utilization of biotechnology tools for the crop and grain improvement.

For the seminar and conference program, visit http://www.biotec.or.th/BioAsia2007/home/Conference-Program.asp

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