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July 11, 2007


Cotton farmers rake in a moolah; Thai GM rice charge cleared; Merkle wins Barrington Moore award


* GMO Seeds Benefit Environment
* BT cotton farmers rake in a moolah
* Bt cotton not cause of animal death
* France publishes GM crop register
* Thai GM rice charge cleared
* Scott Merkle wins Barrington Moore award


GMO Seeds Benefit Environment

- University of Illinois (press release), July 10, 2007


URBANA - Genetically modified seeds that are resistant to a low-toxicity herbicide, glyphosate, have a positive environmental impact when compared to other technologies to combat weeds, according to a recent University of Illinois study.

"With the emergence of glyphosate-resistant (GR) weeds, the environmental consequences of alternatives to the use of genetically modified seed are of increasing importance," explained Gerald Nelson, a professor in the U of I Department of Agricultural and Consumer Sciences.

Nelson and his doctoral student Justin G. Gardner conducted a study that simulated the environmental effect of abandoning the glyphosate-resistant seed if weeds develop immunity to it. They utilized a well-known mammalian toxicity measure, the LD 50 dose for rats (the volume of pesticide needed to kill 50 percent of a test population of rats), to assess one potential environmental impact. They simulated the consequences for corn, soybeans, and cotton.

"With conventional tillage, we found that the use of GR seeds reduces the number of LD 50 doses applied per hectare by 17 percent to 98 percent, depending on the crop," said Nelson. "With no-till, the use of GR seeds reduces LD 50 doses only in corn.

"If farmers switch to conventional seeds because of GR-resistant weeds but maintain the same tillage practices, our simulation suggests that LD 50 doses could increase by as much as 100 LD 50 doses per hectare in soybeans, and 500 LD 50 doses per hectare in cotton, or 11.4 and 19.8 percent, respectively."

Reducing LD 50 doses per hectare generally depends on the crop and whether the tillage system changes.

"Because no-till replaces mechanical weed control with chemical weed control, we expect it to increase the LD 50 doses as in fact it does for all three crops, even with the use of GR seeds," Nelson noted.

The simulation assumed the extreme case of all farmers switching to non-GR seed technology. Nelson added that due to the small number of farms that use GR seed in the sample, the corn results are suspect.

Recently summarized in Science magazine, available online at (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/316/5828/1116), the detailed results are available in a paper forthcoming in the Journal of Pest Management Science.


BT cotton farmers rake in a moolah

Earn over Rs 7,000 crore more in 2006

- The Financial Express (India), July 10, 2007


New Delhi - Cotton farmers have earned an additional income of Rs 7,039 crore in 2006 after a 50% increase in yield due to use of Bt cotton seed, a study conducted jointly by the Associated Chamber of Commerce & Industry (Assocham) and IMRB International has revealed.

Introduction of two-stacked genes Bollgaurd II Bt cotton has benefited famers by making a saving on pesticide use to the tune of Rs 1,600 per acre. Bollguard II Bt cotton was allowed for commercial cultivation in central and western India in 2006 and according to Assocham-IMRB study, farmers growing conventional cotton spend Rs 2,900 per acre on pesticide use, while those growing Bt cotton (with one gene cry 1 Ac) spend Rs 2,000 per acre and farmers growing Bollgaurd II Bt cotton spend Rs 1,300 per acre.

Thus the farmers growing growing Bollguard II Bt cotton have the advantage of saving Rs 1,600 per acre on pesticide use over those growing conventional cotton. Bollgaurd II Bt cotton has the advantage of controlling both Bollworm and the sucking pest, Spodopetra, while Bt cotton (with one gene cry 1 Ac) controls only Bollworm. The Bt technology do not totally eliminate pesticide use, it curtails the number of sprays said the study. The number of sprays was about 4.6 times less per acre for control of Bolloworm on Bt cotton (with one gene cry1Ac). The number of sprays was two times less per acre for control of Spodopetra on Bollguard II Bt cotton.

Bollguard II farmers earned a profit of Rs 15,136 per acre, while farmers growing Bt cotton (with one gene cry 1 Ac) earned a profit of Rs 12,541 per acre. Farmers growing conventional cotton earned a profit of only Rs 4,784 per acre the study said and added "this is despite the fact that Bt seeds are 2.5 times costlier than conventional seeds" and increased used of water and fertilisers. Another study conducted by Assocham in collaboration with Indicus Analytics found are under Bt cotton increased to over 8 million acres with 2 million farmers cultivating it.


Bt cotton consumption not cause animal death: AICBA

- Bharat Textile, July 10, 2007


HYDERABAD: An organisation comprising members of companies engaged in agriculture biotechnology, the All-India Crop Biotechnology Association (AICBA) asserted that the deaths of sheep, goat and cattle were not related to consumption of Bt cotton leaves and plants, Mr R.K. Sinha, Executive Director of AICBA said.

Mr R.K. Sinha along with Mr Raj Ketkar, Joint Managing Director of Mahyco Monsanto Biotech while addressing a press conference pointed out that limited studies in goats and rats fed with Bt cotton leftovers indicated no untoward clinical effects.

Both were quoting observations from a report by the Centre for Animal Disease Research and Diagnosis of IVRI (Indian Veterinary Research Institute) to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC).

Further, added that none of the reports or analyses conclude that Bt toxin was responsible for sheep mortality in Adilabad and Warangal districts of Andhra Pradesh. The GEAC reviewed reports published in international journals and views expressed by the Punjab State Agriculture University (Ludhiana).

However, the compounds such as nitrates and nitrites found in the viscera of sheep were in no way connected to Bt cotton; whereas on pricing of Bt cottonseed they concluded that there should be no control on pricing.

The Andhra Pradesh Government put a bar, mandating the seed companies to sell Bt-II too at Rs 750, while Bt-I is sold at Rs 750 a packet, Bt-II is distributed at Rs 925.


France puts GMO culture register in line

- Xinhua via People's Daily (China), July 10, 2007


France announced Monday it was putting in line a national register of plots of land growing genetically modified organisms (GMO) food crops, which will henceforth be accessible to the general public, according to a statement issued by the French ministry of agriculture and fisheries.

This register gives the exact number and surface areas of GMO plots of land cultivated per district, which is a little more than 19,800 hectares of land declared in 2007 across the entire country.

According to the ministry, the register was drawn up from compulsory declarations made by producers and operators using a variety of genetically modified maize seeds approved in the European Union (EU) market.

French minister for agriculture Michel Barnier said during the announcement that the setting up of this register falls within the government's transparency policy.

In France, anti-GMO sympathizers have in recent years destroyed several dozens of GMO experimental fields, seriously threatening, according to experts, French research in this field.


China buys more Thai rice as GMO charge cleared

- Thai News Agency, July 10, 2007


BANGKOK - Exports of Thai rice to China are expected to increase this year after charges that rice shipped there were tainted by genetically modified (GMO) grain was proven to be unfounded, Thai Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thira Sutabutr said Tuesday.

Chinese authorities in Guangdong province earlier complained that three lots of Thai rice shipped to the province in May were tainted with GMO but it was later determined that foreign substances were mixed with Thai rice apparently by unscrupulous Chinese importers, Mr. Thira said.

After gaining confidence that Thai rice exported to China would not pose any problem in future, Mr. Thira said Chinese rice experts would visit Thailand next month to inspect rice production and export procedures, he said.

Statistics released by the Ministry's National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards said Thailand last year exported 671,854 tonnes of rice to China valued about Bt10.48 billion while it imported 105 tonnes of Chinese rice products worth Bt2.3 million.

During the first five months of this year, Thailand exported 163,210 tonnes of rice to China worth Bt2.69 billion and imported 62 tonnes of Chinese rice products valued at Bt1.3 million.


Scott Merkle wins Society of American Foresters 2007 Barrington Moore award

- University of Georgia (press release), July 10, 2007


Athens, Ga. - Scott A. Merkle, professor of forest biotechnology at the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, has been recognized by the Society of American Foresters, the industry's national professional society, with the prestigious Barrington Moore Award. This award recognizes outstanding achievement in biological research leading to the advancement of forestry.

"Scott's primary motivation for his research has been the improvement of southern hardwoods and conifers for industrial and ornamental purposes," said Jim Sweeney, associate dean at the Warnell School. "However, his work has expanded to include significant advances in environmental remediation."

Merkle's research has concentrated on adapting the phenomenon known as somatic embryogenesis for propagating clones and genetically manipulating southern forest species. Somatic embryogenesis is the process of inducing plant reproduction in a controlled environment, rather than through natural processes, and allows scientists to select or eliminate particular genes that support desirable or non-desirable characteristics. The laboratory process also allows for the introduction of foreign genetic material that can help a species protect itself from invasive pests or diseases.

Since his laboratory's first report of somatic embryogenesis in yellow-poplar in 1986, Merkle has accomplished somatic embryogenesis in 10 forest tree species and two hybrids, a record unmatched by any other laboratory in the world. Trees for which Merkle's lab was the first to report somatic embryogenesis include important commercial species such as yellow-poplar and sweetgum; popular ornamental trees such as southern magnolia; rare species such as pyramid magnolia; one species under attack by a devastating disease (American chestnut); and two hybrids with potential ornamental and industrial uses (yellow-poplar x Chinese tulip tree and sweetgum x Formosan sweetgum).

A portion of Merkle's research program has been dedicated to using biotechnology to restore the American chestnut, once the primary species of the Appalachian Forest until a fungal disease known as chestnut blight was introduced into the U.S. around the beginning of the 20th Century.

Merkle has pioneered the use of somatic embryogenesis and gene transfer to lay the groundwork for engineering the tree with anti-fungal genes. His lab was the first to report regeneration of the tree via somatic embryogenesis and the first to use these cultures to produce transgenic chestnut material. Recently, his lab has received grants from ArborGen LLC, the Institute for Forest Biotechnology and the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research to continue and expand this research with American chestnut.

The Society of American Foresters award is named after Barrington Moore, a prominent member of the first generation of American foresters who had a strong interest in the establishment of a sound biological basis for the practice of forestry.

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