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October 10, 2007


300-Bushel Corn; No Refuge Required; Illegal Cotton in Pakistan; Greenpeace Retaliates


* Growers See Results Of Vt Corn
* 300-Bushel Corn is Coming
* No Refuge Required
* 'Gene Modified Foods Are Safe'
* RP's GMO rules cited as model
* Scientists urge technology use
* 'Embrace Biotechnology for Productivity'
* Illegal Cotton Nearly 40% of Paki Crop
* APHIS ends rice investigation
* Greenpeace brews up rice flap
* Europe's stance to presage feed shortage?


Growers See Results Of New Yieldgard Vt Corn

- Tom Doran, AgriNews Online, Oct. 5, 2007


DWIGHT, Ill. - Dan and Tim Kilmer joined the family farm partnership about four to five years ago and, as young farmers, were looking for a reliable hybrid to help them out.

According to their yields, they have found what they were looking for, and are among 400 corn growers from Illinois this year that planted hybrids with Monsanto's new YieldGard VT technology.

There are about 2,000 "Innovator" producers on 1.5 million acres across the Corn Belt who participated in the limited YieldGard VT launch. A significant expansion is planned for 2008.

YieldGard VT is the next generation of YieldGard in-plant insect control technology. The advanced science involves a more precise gene insertion process, known as Vector Stacked Transformation, or "VecTran," to create enhanced, stacked- trait hybrids. The result is improved consistency, even better insect control and higher yield potential than the first generation of YieldGard products.

All of the farmers participating in the Innovator program are planting YieldGard VT Triple products, which combine YieldGard VT second-generation rootworm control, YieldGard Corn Borer and Roundup Ready weed control technology.

"Being young farmers, my brother and myself starting out, we have to depend on reliable hybrids and the DeKalb hybrids with the VT technology seems to be a consistent yield performer across all soil types," explained Dan, who farms nearly 3,000 acres with his brother, as well as his father, Darryl, and grandfather, Richard.

"The field across the road where we have VT we have good drummer soil near the road and then it breaks off toward the creek and even where it breaks off to the creek it yielded real well, so we're very pleased with that.

"The Roundup trait is great and offers you a whole other option for weed control, especially getting your grasses in corn. The insect pressure is phenomenal.

"What I like about it is you can plant it and you're just kind of protected all around. Ground-applied insecticide at planting time can have its problems. If you don't get rain, it doesn't work affectively for you, but the rootworm technology, especially VT technology, you plant it and you're going to have it.

"At planting time you just dump the corn in the planter and let it rip. You don't have to monkey with dumping insecticide in your planter, and I don't like handling all of that insecticide. You're dumping it in the boxes on windy days and it's blowing around," Dan said.

Heavy rootworm pressure has been noted in this vicinity, and corn borer pressure varies from year to year, according to Dan.

"This year we didn't think that there was too much, but you walk out into the field and where we didn't have Bt corn and there was a lot of pressure out there. We didn't see a lot of flying at night, but a lot of tops were busted out and a lot of shanks had been eaten out on the ears."

As was the case with most producers, the Kilmers had additional corn acres this year. "We are about two-thirds corn. We pushed it up a little bit. The past three or four years we have been increasing corn acres every year and this year was the most corn acres we ever had," noted Dan.

"Last year we planted a lot of conventional corn, Bt corn, some rootworm corn and some triple stack, but this year we went to a lot more triple stack because of a much better yield performance.

"Up until a couple of years ago, we captured a lot of non-GMO premium on some corn through ADM at Morris and that had been working real well, but the problem is all of these new hybrids are now stacked with traits and everything, which is great, but their yielding enough more that kind of the non-GMO has almost become a thing of the past."

A majority of the Kilmer fields are corn after soybeans.

Pointing to the field across the road from his father's home, he continued, "It was corn on soybean ground which would have more rootworm pressure. We're seeing more rootworm pressure where it was beans the year before.

"We went out and dug up three stalks in a row in the VT and walked just four rows over to its isoline and dug up three stalks in a row.

"In the VT we found one rootworm larva that was crawling around. It wasn't too bad. There was very little feeding on its roots.

"We walked into its isoline and they were just crawling everywhere, and just four rows over. I couldn't believe it. I bet we counted 100 of them and the feeding was just tremendous, and there was Force applied at 4.4 pounds an acre and we had very adequate rainfall in spring time to activate. I would say the Force did as good as it could have, but it just simply wasn't good enough for the heavy infestation we had there," Dan said.

He believes the improved performance justifies the additional per bag premiums.

"The VT cost more, but on your refuge acres you have to use Force insecticide or any ground-applied insecticide. That cost money right there. To tell you the truth, you're paying one way or paying the other, and the yield performance has just been outstanding.

"Across the road we did the VT next to its isoline hybrid with just the Roundup trait on it and we were 16 bushels better with the VT3, and that's just exactly side by side. It definitely paid for itself.

"Everything we've harvested so far has been 220 to 230. It's been phenomenal. This is well above average. Last year we had planted some of the new DeKalb hybrids and we had one field went 230, a couple in the 220s, but last year was a really good year too. The year before that we had very poor corn, but it was very dry here.

"Last year, since it was so dry at planting time, the soil-applied insecticide did not work, and that corn was devastated. We were 50 bushel corn where we had ground-applied insecticide, and right next to it we had the YieldGard rootworm and it was perfectly fine. That's what really got us persuaded to plant as much as we're allowed of the rootworm technology.

"This year has been tremendous. I feel the bean yields are going to be pretty good too.

"We're extremely pleased with the VT technology. We plan on planting a large portion of our acres with it next year," Dan explained. Dan and Tim may increase to three-fourths corn next year. His father may increase to two-thirds to three-fourths, and his grandfather will "not quite go 50-50 with a little more corn."


300-Bushel Corn is Coming

- Susanne Retka Schill, Ethanol Producer Magazine, Oct. 2007 Issue


If a seed industry representative's forecasts come to fruition, corn used for ethanol production will stay ahead of demand. Average corn yields have doubled in the past 30 years, and new biotechnology traits and research techniques may lead to similar advancements in the next 25 years.

Cory Mescher started his new job as crop production and grain marketing specialist last spring with Aurora Co-op. in Aurora, Neb. He was hired to ramp up a new program paying farmers a premium for corn with high fermentable starch content. The central Nebraska co-op is gearing up to eventually supply the region's expanding ethanol industry, with a goal of originating 100 million bushels of corn per year for one massive ethanol plant.

Similar growth in ethanol's demand on the nationwide corn market is prompting worries about whether corn production can keep up. While farmers responded in 2007 with the most planted corn acres since World War II, another way to calm those concerns is to develop higher yielding corn varieties. EPM talked with the managers of biofuels marketing and strategy for Monsanto Co., Syngenta AG and Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., a division of Dupont Co. The three companies hold a combined 72 percent share of the corn seed market and lead the field in commercialization of breeding technologies into new hybrids. They relate to EPM their experiences with new plant breeding tools that speed up the crop development timeline, help design corn varieties for ethanol production and increase yields.

Monsanto has boldly declared the average corn yield in the United States will reach 300 bushels an acre - double the current national average. Although challenging, it's not beyond the realm of possibilities, says Troy Hobbs, Monsanto's corn biofuels strategy leader, who points out that the national average yield in 1970 was 70 bushels per acre. In 2006, the national yield averaged 149 bushels per acre. Projecting that trend to 2030 would indicate 200-bushels-per-acre average yields. Monsanto predicts that advances in molecular breeding will push that to 250 bushels per acre. Additional biotechnology gains will boost the average to 300 bushels per acre by 2030. Hobbs compares the corn breeding industry to the computer industry in the 1960s and 1970s when inventions led to major advancements in the following decades.

Others are less willing to project future yields, but do agree that they will continue to increase. "In the future, molecular breeding and markers will have an effect," says David Witherspoon, Syngenta's head of renewable fuels for North America. "We haven't seen what we can do there to increase yields and improve quality." Molecular breeding allows plant breeders to identify desirable genetic traits and select successful hybrid crosses in the laboratory, speeding up the improvement in corn hybrids. Witherspoon adds that to get maximum yields, farmers have to control pests and weeds, some of which is accomplished through agronomics and some through corn breeding.

Biotech corn varieties have become popular among farmers looking to control weeds and insects. One type of genetically modified corn tolerates the herbicide glyphosate and allows broad-spectrum weed control. Other varieties have been modified to express the natural insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis to build insect resistance into the corn. Monsanto promotes its triple-stack traits with the glyphosate tolerance and two types of insect resistance.

Joe Foresman, Pioneer's senior marketing manager in biofuels, says his company expects to introduce its new line of engineered hybrids, Optimum GAT, in the next couple of years. The hybrids will combine traits for glyphosate tolerance with tolerance to the family of acetolactate synthase herbicides, expanding the spectrum of weed control available to farmers.

All three companies say the next round of corn improvements will feature greater drought tolerance and improved nitrogen utilization. Hobbs says corn varieties with drought genes could be used on irrigated fields to reduce water usage and maintain yields in varying weather conditions. Current varieties have already been improved. For example, Illinois growers were very concerned about dry conditions hurting last year's crop, Hobbs says, "and they ended up with near-record yields."

Improving yields lies at the core of corn hybrid work. "We're trying to take a holistic approach at Pioneer," Foresman says. Their hybrids, developed for each growing region of the country, try to improve ethanol yields per bushel and the feed value of the distillers dried grains, as well as continuing to drive yields up for farmers. "At the end of the day it is still about income per acre for the customers," Foresman says.

Designing Corn for Ethanol

In other crop improvements, Syngenta has engineered a corn variety that grows its own alpha-amylase enzyme used for saccharification. The company received U.S. Federal Drug Administration approval to test the grain in full-scale ethanol plant trials. "We're still in the development stage of the product," Witherspoon says. "We have run small-scale tests and in research-scale ethanol plant trials, but they don't answer all the questions." At press time, the full-scale trials were slated to start this fall and continue at least through 2008 to test the product in ethanol plants. Then it will undergo another round of federal approval before commercialization. Witherspoon expects that ethanol plants will contract with farmers to grow and deliver the enzyme-containing corn, which will be blended with regular corn at the plant. The product will have a wide enough operational range that precise blending won't be necessary, he adds.

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No Refuge Required

EPA changes refuge rules for two-gene cotton

- Charles Johnson, AgWeb.com (via AgBioView's London correspondent), Oct. 5, 2007

Cotton farmers growing varieties with two Bt genes, such as Bollgard II and WideStrike, no longer have to plant a non-Bt cotton refuge to avoid insect resistance, thanks to new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules.

As part of the revamped regulations, however, single-gene Bollgard varieties, introduced to the marketplace in 1996, must be phased out after the 2009 season. That means single-gene varieties like Delta & Pine Land Company's DP555, popular in the mid-South and lower Southeast, will not be available for the 2010 crop.

The EPA ruling affects growers from Texas eastward. It excludes some counties in the Texas Panhandle, which have not been eligible to use Bt cotton due to the region's large corn acreage resulting in potential resistance with bollworm populations.

Monsanto Company, which makes Bollgard and Bollgard II, and Dow AgroSciences, manufacturer of the two-gene WideStrike, cooperated with the National Cotton Council to work with EPA on the new rules.

"We offered our data package to Dow to facilitate their effort in obtaining the natural refuge option. It was the result of a five-year, multi-state research project by Monsanto, university and USDA researchers to determine the host crop of adult bollworm and budworm moths trapped in or near cotton fields," says Walt Mullins, Monsanto's technology development manager.

"We were able to discern what crop or plant types the larvae fed upon before they became the moths. By doing this we were able to prove that all cotton fields contained some number of non-cotton-derived bollworm and budworm adults all season."

That convinced EPA that bollworm and budworm resistance won't likely develop in two-gene Bt cotton and that the natural refuge from other crops or weeds produce enough nonselected moths to provide adequate refuge for resistance management.

Single-gene cotton, though, presented a greater risk of insect resistance developing. That's why EPA insisted the original Bollgard had to be phased out.

The move came about after EPA grew concerned that growers were not complying with refuge rules.

"Compliance in some states has been declining in the past few years. If this trend in noncompliance continues, EPA may require industry to impose stiffer penalties for noncompliance. This would not be good for industry or the grower," Mullins says.

Duane Canfield, Dow AgroSciences product manager for PhytoGen and WideStrike, says plenty of solid research went into the decision. Dow's WideStrike made its debut in 2005 and is available in its PhytoGen varieties. The company never sold a single-gene Bt cotton product.

By 2010, the three refuge options will be history. The old compliance program, which requires farmers to state what they're doing, will still be around.

"There's still an EPA compliance requirement and a company requirement. We're still watching these technologies from an insect resistance management standpoint. There still have to be signed grower agreements, and we will still be monitoring fields," Canfield says. It will also call for some adjustments on the part of growers, moving some along to newer varieties.

"We do not have a Bollgard II and Roundup Ready Flex variety that yields as good as DP555 for the lower Southeast and mid-South. Continued presence of the single-gene product jeopardizes the longer-term viability of the two-gene products. We agreed to terminate the registration of Bollgard after the 2009 season to ensure enough time for good Bollgard II replacement varieties to be developed and offered to the marketplace," Mullins says.

"It takes growers time to adjust not only to new technologies but also to become comfortable that the new varieties will produce the yield and quality they desire," he adds.


Philippine Agriculture Department: 'Gene Modified Foods Are Safe'

- Paul Icamina, All Headline News, Oct. 9, 2007


Manila, Philippines-All 44 genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that have been approved for commercial release in the Philippines since December 2002 are safe.

The Department of Agriculture's Biotechnology Advisory Team on Monday unconditionally guaranteed the safety of these products which it said pass strict regulatory procedures required by the government.

Prolonged tests conducted on the 44 GMOs approved so far showed there was no risks to consumers and the environment, it said.

Several layers of tests are conducted not only by government authorities but also by independent scientists to make sure that risks are overcome, the Manila Bulletin reported.

Most of the approved GMOs are food products, according to the government's Biotechnology Program Office. The Bureau of Plant Industry approves GMO applications whether they are safe for food, feed, processing or for propagation.

Meanwhile, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday ordered the National Anti-Poverty Commission to provide livelihood assistance to the wives of farmers and fishermen.

The directive was made after the National Nutrition Council reported that hunger incidence worsened in the country during the second quarter of the year.

The NNC said the recent dry spell caused a reduction in the food supply, increased food prices, and eventually aggravated the hunger situation in the country.

Aside from providing short-term relief to farmers and fishermen, the President also asked the Department of Agriculture to fast-track the construction of farm-to-market roads and the rehabilitation of irrigations.


RP's GMO rules cited as model for Asia

- Philippine Information Agency (press release), Oct. 6, 2007


Manila -- The Philippine bio-safety standards and regulations have been cited in several international fora as a model in the region for its science-based, transparent and responsive system. The professionals behind the bio-safety regulations are people of impeccable reputation from the academe and scientific community and will not tolerate the entry of materials which will ruin Philippine agriculture.

Parallel safety assessments of every GM crop applied for commercial use are performed not only by several government regulators, but by independent scientists and technical experts in the field of human, animal and environmental safety.

This parallel safety assessment by internal and external reviewers, though stringent according to international standards is being resorted to ensure optimum product safety before any GM crop is commercialized.

Director Alice Ilaga, head of the Department of Agriculture's Biotechnology Program Office (BPO) assured the public that all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) approved for commercial release in the Philippines are safe.

All 44 GMOs approved for commercial release by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), an agency attached to the DA, were carefully evaluated by experts even after having been approved by equally competent regulatory bodies of other countries.

The BPI is the sole government agency responsible for the final approval or rejection of GMO applications for food, feed, processing or for propagation.


Scientists urge GM technology use

- Wayne Timmo, Waikato Times, Oct. 6, 2007


New Zealand agriculture could fall to "Third World" status in 20 years if it doesn't take up genetic modification technology, say leading agricultural scientists.

Speaking at a biotechnology workshop at Agresearch's Ruakura campus on Thursday, Crop and Food Research scientist Dr Tony Conner said uptake of GM technology was increasing worldwide.

"If we don't adopt this technology then we will be left behind. By 20 years' time we could fall behind and be a Third World country," Dr Conner said.

GM crops offered higher yields and improved traits like pest resistance, but concern over the technology has prompted opposition to its commercial release in New Zealand. GM crop use increased 13 per cent last year, with 102 million ha, or four times the area of New Zealand, planted in 2006. Half was in the US.

PGG Wrightsons general manager technology services and former Crop and Food chief executive Paul Tocker, said trials were currently under way in North America for a ryegrass that could potentially grow 35-40 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year. Usual New Zealand ryegrasses achieved 12-15 tonnes/dm/ha/year, with just over 20 tonnes possible in best practice operations.

This had huge implications for the dairy industry, which was already under threat as a low-cost producer.

"If the rest of the world can grow 40 tonnes and we can only grow 20 tonnes, we have got big problems," Mr Tocker said.

He estimated high-producing GM ryegrasses were three to five years from commercial release, with palatability and energy content still needing work.

"If we are not in that space then we have got that challenge. The competition of the dairy industry is critical to this country."

Although 60 field tests have been conducted in the past 20 years, mostly on potatoes, no one had applied for commercial release of a GM crop or organism.

"If we do not stay in that science as a nation it will pass us by and we'll never regain that."

Mr Tocker said New Zealand did not have the scale to justify the expense of local testing for GM crops, so many companies, including PGG Wrightson, conducted field tests offshore that would be unlikely to gain approval under current rules.

"It's a concern for me as a New Zealander that the environment (to develop GM products) is just not there.

"In New Zealand we're probably going to struggle to get anything in the ground unless it's of such medical value that we can then wrap the controls around it. Then why would you do it in New Zealand? Why not do it somewhere cheaper?"


Zimbabwe: 'Embrace Biotechnology to Enhance Agric Productivity'

- The Herald (Harare), Oct. 8, 2007


Zimbabweans should embrace biotechnology to enhance agricultural productivity and achieve economic development, Minister of Science and Technology Dr Olivia Muchena has said.

Speaking at the National Biotechnology Authority stakeholders' workshop in the capital, Dr Muchena said improved agricultural yields would translate into food self-sufficiency. "We want the sector to be recognised and given immediate attention like other sectors of the economy, agriculture for example. "Investment in this area is quite important. We have outstanding scientists, and natural resources that can be exploited through biotechnology to enhance agricultural yields, manufacture vaccines and produce fuel," she said.

Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences president Professor Christopher Chetsanga bemoaned the lack of significant investment into the sector, which he said could transform the country from being a raw material-based to a knowledge-based economy.

He called on farmers to exploit the use of technology to improve agricultural yields and secure food security. "The benefits of using biotechnology are that farmers can reduce pesticides, save time, labour as well as reduce costs. "Countries like China are prospering through using this. The Chinese have now developed 141 crops with 65 now undergoing field trials. They are using genetically modified crops for food security and we could do the same," he said. Loosely defined, biotechnology refers to the use of living organisms or their products to modify human health and the human environment. Prehistoric biotechnologists did this using yeast cells to raise bread dough and fer- ment alcoholic beverages, bacterial cells to make cheeses and yogurts as well as breeding productive animals to produce even stronger and more productive offspring.

Zimbabwe was the first country in the region to use biotechnology when it came up with a cross-hybrid maize variety.


Pakistan Agricultural Situation Cotton Update

- Mohammed Shafiq Ur Rehman, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (GAIN Report No. PK7026), Oct. 2, 2007

Illegal Bt Cotton Comprises Nearly 40% of Crop

It is now estimated that nearly 40 percent of Pakistan's MY 2007/2008 cotton crop is planted to illegal Bt cotton varieties. The GOP maintains an optimistic crop estimate of over 11 million bales with approximately 4 million bales expected from the illegal biotech varieties. Some of the Bt cottonseed was likely obtained from local institutes where new genetically modified cotton varieties are being developed. However, most illegal Bt cottonseed has been smuggled into Pakistan from India, China and Australia.

GOP Taking Steps to Allow Commercialization of GM Cotton

While the GOP is taking steps to fast track the commercial use of genetically engineered cotton varieties, it will likely take two to three years to develop, test and gain environmental release approval of new varieties suited to Pakistan's climate, insect pests and plant diseases. The illegal Bt cottonseed is generally resistant to bollworm but is not effective against mealy bugs and cotton leaf curl virus (CLCV) which pose serious threats to Pakistan's cotton crop.

A Federal Committee has been formed to promote cooperation between international biotechnology companies and Pakistan's research institutes. Pakistan Expected to Remain a Net Cotton Importer in MY 2007/2008 Pakistan's cotton consumption for MY 2007/08 is forecast at about 12.6 million bales, indicating that it will once again be a net importer of cotton. The domestic textile industry maintains a strong import demand for high grade long staple cotton. Last year, 2.3 million bales of cotton were imported from different origins including the United States, Brazil, India and Uzbekistan. A similar volume of imports is expected for the current marketing year.

Pakistan remains one of the largest buyers of U.S upland and pima cotton.

During the first seven months of 2007, Pakistan's imports of U.S. cotton increased nearly 100 percent over 2006 levels.


APHIS ends biotech rice investigation with few answers

- Peter Shinn, Brownfield Network, Oct. 5, 2007


USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Bruce Knight announced Friday the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) had concluded its investigation into the contamination of U.S. rice with unapproved biotech varieties. While Knight acknowledged the incident had impacted how APHIS did business, the investigation itself yielded few answers as to how the situation actually developed.

The contamination happened as a result of field tests conducted by a company now owned by Bayer CropScience starting in 1998. Bayer disclosed the contamination had occurred in August of 2006 and traces of the unapproved rice were found in several states. U.S. rice exports to Europe were disrupted as a result.

A pending class action lawsuit brought by rice farmers against Bayer aims to recapture some of the lost value of that export market. In the meantime, APHIS Administrator Cindy Smith said Friday during a teleconference with reporters that USDA believes concluding the investigation will be instrumental in re-establishing access to Europe's market for U.S. rice.

"We certainly hope that it will be," Smith said. "There's been a lot of discussion from the EU requesting an understanding of what happened in this situation."

In fact, Smith said USDA sent a top APHIS official directly to Europe to brief EU officials in person on the investigation's conclusions. The problem is that APHIS doesn't know exactly what happened in the 1998 field trials because of poor record keeping. According to Smith, cross-pollination of biotech and non-biotech rice is the least likely cause. She said human error in segregating the biotech rice from conventional rice is much more likely.

Still, Smith said, largely because of this incident, USDA is re-writing its entire rulebook on biotech crop testing. And in the meantime, she said the Agency is implementing a new risk-based biotech crop field test permitting system.

"That permitting process gives us a lot of flexibility in writing very specific permit conditions for each field test," Smith explained. "And that, I think, is probably a key change that we have in the works.

Smith says APHIS was in close contact with Bayer CropScience during the investigation but that the company didn't know outcome of the investigation in advance. The lack of evidence from 1998 means USDA didn't find that Bayer violated any regulations in place at that time and won't be punished.


Greenpeace brews up rice flap with Anheuser-Busch

- Peter Shinn, Brownfield Network, Oct. 9, 2007


The LL601 rice story took an odd turn Monday, when the environmental activist group Greenpeace issued a press release blasting U.S. brewery giant Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis. At issue? The company's use of rice containing the biotech event.

Aventis CropScience, now owned by Bayer CropScience, accidentally released LL601 into conventional rice during field testing between 1998 and 2001. Bayer CropScience notified USDA of the problem in August of 2006, and it soon became evident that LL601 could be found in rice across six states. USDA quickly approved LL601 for human consumption, but not before the European Union blocked U.S. rice exports. Last week, USDA's investigation into the incident concluded with few answers as to how it actually occurred.

And on Monday, Greenpeace issued a blistering press claiming a mill from which Anheuser-Busch purchased rice had traces of contamination from LL601. The release also quoted an "agricultural activist," who demanded, among other things, that "Anheuser-Busch... make a clear statement about the level of GE contamination of the rice used to brew Budweiser in the U.S..."

Since Greenpeace itself acknowledges that up to 30% of the U.S. rice crop last year contained the LL601 event, perhaps it's not surprising that Anheuser-Busch purchased some of it. That's especially true since the giant brewer reportedly purchases over 5% of the entire U.S. rice crop.

So what's behind the Greenpeace campaign against the maker of such popular beer brands as Budweiser and Michelob? In a statement of its own, Anheuser-Busch said the Greenpeace effort was simply payback for the brewer's refusal to take an anti-biotech pledge.

"We stand in support of U.S. farmers, who are partners with us in the quality of our products," the statement from Anheuser-Busch read. "Greenpeace recently asked us to join their advocacy campaign on genetically modified crops," it continued. "We refused their calls to boycott U.S. farmers, and they are now retaliating."

The Anheuser-Busch statement also made no apologies for biotech crops, which it called "nothing new." And the company pointed out that, even if LL601 were present in any of its beers, the biotech event doesn't represent a food safety issue.

"U.S.-grown long-grained rice that may have micro levels of Liberty Link proteins present is fully approved by the U.S. Government, having determined that it is perfectly safe for human consumption," said the Anheuser-Busch statement. "Moreover, the Liberty Link protein, like all proteins, is substantially removed or destroyed by the brewing process."


Europe's anti-GM stance to presage animal feed shortage?

- Peter Mitchell, Nature Biotechnology 25, 1065 - 1066 (2007) doi:10.1038/nbt1007-1065 (reproduced with permission)


The 'zero-tolerance' stance of the EU relating to the presence of genetically modified (GM) plant materials in imported goods has been a point of contention for years, but a report is suggesting new ways it could wreak havoc on the region - by creating a shortage in livestock feed.

The report from the European Commission's (EC's) agricultural directorate (DG Ag) depicts an EU cut off from its principal supplies of animal feed within two years, if grain-producing countries in North and South America move to so-called 'second-generation' genetically modified varieties of corn and soy. In a worst-case scenario, that could mean the mass slaughter of livestock in Europe and the loss of the region's status as a net food exporter, but even less pessimistic estimates have the EU facing a 3.3 million ton feed shortage by 2009-2010.

The report says that the new varieties of GM crops for animal feed - such as St. Louis-based Monsanto's Roundup RReady2Yield (MON 89788) - are unlikely to be approved in Europe until after the Americas switch to growing them, probably in 2009. After that date, all feed shipments from the Western Hemisphere likely would contain traces of the unapproved varieties - forcing European importers, with their current zero tolerance approach to unapproved GM material, to reject them.

The threat is a real one, says Nathalie Moll, executive director for green biotech at the trade association EuropaBio in Brussels. She notes it already has occurred on a smaller scale with corn gluten feed, used by a handful of EU member states. Traces of Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences-Pioneer corn variety Herculex - unapproved in Europe at the time of writing - has begun turning up in corn gluten feed shipments and has been rejected by importers. "The trade in corn gluten feed is falling to zero and will be zero next year," says Moll. "But soy is a far bigger problem because all EU countries use it for feed and it can't be replaced" (Table 1). Table 1: Deviation from baseline net production (%) Table 1 - Deviation from baseline net production (%)

Full table

Moll says that if a solution isn't found, European farmers will be forced into wholesale slaughter of their livestock rather than have the animals starve. Europe will then have to import huge quantities of animal products from elsewhere - ironically, most of it from animals raised on the very same GM feeds that Europe has not approved.

"As long as the EU keeps its zero tolerance policy on trace levels, it's just a question of when, not if, this scenario turns up," she says. Monsanto appears to be holding back launch of RR2 into American markets until 2009 in the hope that the EU will have approved it by then, but Moll says problems may start even before that: the company is already expecting to multiply seed in 2008, which could mean some carryover into traded shipments.

There is little doubt that both North American and Latin American farmers will make the switch to second-generation 'stacked-gene' crop varieties. First-generation GM varieties are now beginning to lose their attraction as resistance to their traits begins to build. "The US will make the switch first, and then Argentina and Brazil will want to follow suit," says crop biotech expert Vivian Moses of Queen Mary College, London. "They want to grow it anyway for export to Asia, and Europe is becoming more and more marginal as a feed market as the Chinese market expands."

Gabriela Levitus, executive director of Argentina's trade association, ArgenBio, says Argentina provides 55% of Europe's total annual soymeal needs and more than 60% of its corn (maize). She says grower countries have considered trying to avoid the danger by segregating their EU-unapproved products, but dismissed the idea as too expensive: it would cost around $40 per ton of soy or maize to keep traces of unapproved material below a 0.9% threshold.

As a result, Levitus says, Argentina's policy is now to press ahead with new GM crop approvals, leaving the responsibility to avoid a feed shortage firmly with the EC. She urged the EC to support the efforts made at the international Codex Alimentarius discussion forum held in July to get Europe to agree to a 0.9% tolerance level for adventitious presence of unapproved GM material.

Howard Minigh, chief executive of the international growers' association CropLife, said the danger was due to "excessive precaution and political expediency, not valid safety concerns." He also urged Europe to endorse and support the Codex negotiations.

But Moisés Burachik, head of Argentina's biotech regulatory agency, says that thresholds are appropriate only as a transitional measure while Europe gets its approvals procedures sorted out. "EFSA [the European Food Safety Agency] is not handling approvals in a scientific way," he says. "The only solution that will spare both Europe and the Americas a lot of difficulties is for Europe to stop avoiding approvals and speed up the process."

Burachik warns that the controversy could affect European feed supplies sooner than anyone expects, as Argentina is already moving toward second-generation GM corn and soy. "We have problems with resistance to glyphosate and we urgently need a new GM soy variety," he says. The country is two years into field trials of the new stacked-trait varieties, with two years still to run before approval. Although strict environmental controls are being enforced to prevent escapes, Burachik admits it is possible that traces of the new GM varieties will begin appearing in soy shipments before they have even been approved in Argentina, let alone in Europe.

Not everyone is so pessimistic. Gautam Sirur of agribusiness consultancy Cropnosis, of Edinburgh, UK, predicts that special interest groups - particularly the European livestock farming industry - will pressure politicians to speed up European approvals of new GM varieties and synchronize them with the producer countries. "Policymakers are aware of the drawbacks of an outright ban," he says. "The new varieties will only be commercialized in the growing countries by the time the EU countries approve newer varieties/traits, say 2009. Growing seasons and current soybean inventories, which are ample, will take care of the rest."

But the green lobby is implacably opposed to any kind of relaxation in Europe's anti-GM stance. "Allowing a little contamination of food with unapproved genetic material is the top of a slippery slope," says Joe Cummins of the international pressure group ISiS (Institute of Science in Society). "A little DNA can go a long way." He dismissed the DG Ag report as an exaggeration: "Except for an unreliable worst case estimate, the crisis seems manageable if not minute." ISiS believes the real reason for feed shortages is diversion of crops into biofuel markets, and it says Europe should react by increasing its support for 'organic' meat production (feeding livestock grass rather than grain). It also suggests reducing pressure on bioenergy crops by supporting biofuel production from waste. It accused the EC of using the shortage as an excuse to approve more GM feed varieties.

The biotech industry takes the threat much more seriously. "The DG Ag report looks like a time bomb to me," says EuropaBio's Moll. "Yet the European Commissioners are very clear they are not considering relaxing the policy of zero tolerance. Given the slowness of the Codex negotiations, it's very disappointing that we don't have an interim solution to the crisis."

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