Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





October 16, 2007


More About 'Jumping Genes'; Unnatural and Proud; Dubcovsky Receives Award


* GM crops do not harm health
* Unnatural, And Proud Of It
* New Insights On 'Jumping Genes'
* Scientist honored for wheat research
* Opposition to biotech will starve the world
* Greens put 7,000 jobs at risk
* MPs Pass Biosafety Law
* Qatar considers labelling
* Foods from large farms are safe
* How to Fight Childhood Blindness
* EU criticises Sweden
* Monsanto Announces Innovation Award


Against the grain: 'GM crops do not harm health'

- Nick Jackson, The Independent (UK), Oct. 11, 2007


Chris Leaver is Sibthorpian Professor of Plant Science at Oxford University. He argues that genetically modified food is safe and necessary.

The big challenge in the next 50 years is to doube crop production on the same area of land in the face of climate change and decreased water supplies. Modern agriculture has successfully produced safe food thanks to mechanisation, agrochemicals and plant breeding - "the green revolution". But keeping people fed has depleted the topsoil, resulting in deforestation and desertification.

GM crops have stood the test of time. Last year, 247 million GM crop acres were successfully farmed by 10 million farmers in 22 countries, home to more than half the world's population. Yields have increased due to herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant crops by the introduction of a single gene derived in each case from common soil bacteria. The proteins produced from these genes are non-toxic to animals and the insecticidal gene is derived from Bt bacteria, which is also sprayed on organic crops.

Diseases like potato blight can be controlled by a single GM protein approach, whereas organic farmers spray with carcinogenic copper. GM gives us crops that are drought-resistant, enrich vital nutrients, remove natural toxins, and help to solve health problems such as vitamin A deficiency and allergies. Almost all animal feed includes GM corn and soy. Many of our clothes, and even our euro notes, come from GM cotton.

Any negative effects that slipped through decades of testing would have shown themselves by now. GM crop regulation is gold-plated. Instead of making tens of thousands of genetic changes in plant breeding, with GM you insert a gene with a known single beneficial trait into the plant, so it is far less invasive. You have complete genetic information; you know what the protein specified by the gene does; and it is extensively tested in the laboratory and in feeding trials.

The rest of the world is moving ahead with biotech. UK laboratories have closed down because our knowledge base has moved to India, China and the Americas. Meanwhile, the organic lobby sells food by spreading scare stories and untruths. None of its claims of catastrophe have come about. The World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and other international and regulatory bodies have reported no evidence of health or environmental harm from GM.


Unnatural, And Proud Of It

- Derek Lowe, Corante, Oct. 12, 2007


The Haber-Bosch ammonia synthesis doesn't intrude itself into the public consciousness much, but this year's Nobel gave it a bit of a push. One thing I've noticed, though, is that whenever the topic of artificial fertilization comes up, it always kicks up a small dust storm of comment around it.

These vary widely in the reasonableness. Pointing out that artificially fixed nitrogen moved agriculture from (ultimately) a solar-powered base to (largely) a fossil-fuel base is both accurate and a good starting point for further discussion. See the comments to the Nobel post for an example - a person can argue that the Haber process didn't require fossil fuels per se, or that we use more of them cooking the food than we do growing it (which may be true), or that we use more of them moving the food around (which I think is almost certainly true, and which opens up another set of questions) and so on.

Other good topics for discussion are how close various parts of the world were to a Malthusian food crisis when the ammonia synthesis came along, the other industrial effects of relatively cheap ammonia, the tradeoff of intensive fertilized farming in smaller areas versus more traditional routes in larger ones, etc. But if you'd like an example of an unreasonable comment, I'll let this one over at Megan McArdle's Atlantic Monthly blog stand in for a lot of similar fuzzy-mindedness:

"Higher yields due to the petroleum rich Haber-Bosch method also mean faster soil erosion and increased need of rotation etc. Combined with applying this method for inefficient livestock agriculture - it has destroyed NOT saved the rainforest and other ecosystems. Chemical fertilizer in ecology are like statism for the economy. You can force short-term results but nothing more!

At least 800 million people still go hungry.. their way forward into a sustainable future is less livestock agriculture and (more) organic natural farming.

Haber-Bosch is on the same environmental level as coal, oil! Not good, not sustainable, ideologically toxic for survival. We have to get rid of it pronto if we want our children to have "a nice life".

. . .All the social sciences, all the non-biological sciences like chemistry and physics should drop immediately what they are doing and learn more about their mother (and forget as much as possible about their "father" - you know who I mean?)!"

It's hard to know where to start with this sort of thing. But I think I'll do what Richard Dawkins did for Prince Charles a few years ago. Dawkins's "You're an idiot" style of debate isn't always productive (for example, I think he does more harm than good to his cause as an atheist), but in this case I think the board across the nose was a good idea. He pointed out that if we're going to use "naturalness" as a criterion, then agriculture isn't going to make the cut, either. And that doesn't mean factory farming and Roundup-Ready seeds; that means agriculture of any kind beyond remembering where the good patch of wild blueberries is and getting there before the bears do:

I think you may have an exaggerated idea of the natural ness of "traditional" or "organic" agriculture. Agriculture has always been unnatural. Our species began to depart from our natural hunter-gatherer lifestyle as recently as 10,000 years ago - too short to measure on the evolutionary timescale.

Wheat, be it ever so wholemeal and stoneground, is not a natural food for Homo sapiens. Nor is milk, except for children. Almost every morsel of our food is genetically modified - admittedly by artificial selection not artificial mutation, but the end result is the same. A wheat grain is a genetically modified grass seed, just as a pekinese is a genetically modified wolf. Playing God? We've been playing God for centuries!

The large, anonymous crowds in which we now teem began with the agricultural revolution, and without agriculture we could survive in only a tiny fraction of our current numbers. Our high population is an agricultural (and technological and medical) artifact. It is far more unnatural than the population-limiting methods condemned as unnatural by the Pope. Like it or not, we are stuck with agriculture, and agriculture - all agriculture - is unnatural. We sold that pass 10,000 years ago.

Dawkins is correct. We live in an unnatural world, and that goes for a lot of prehistory, too. Our world has been unnatural ever since we started applying our intelligence to it. When humans first started building shelters to get out of the cold and rain, I suppose you could say that this is no more than what an animal does when it digs a den. Killing a mammoth partly in order to use its bones for a house is a step beyond that, but in the same league as what beavers do to birch trees. But clearing land, planting seeds in it, tending and harvesting a crop, and saving some of its seeds to plant again is another order of living. Just because it all happened a long time ago (and because no one yet knew how to write it down) doesn't make it any more in tune with ancient natural harmonies or whatever. (Try this PDF on for size).

We've been trying to fertilize the soil for thousands of years with whatever was on hand - manure, dead fish, the ashes of the plants that were burnt to make the field. And we've been modifying the genetic profile of our food crops over that same time with awe-inspiring persistence and dedication. (Good thing, too). No, when we move from that to artificial fertilizers and genetically engineered seeds, we're talking about differences in degree rather than differences in kind. Large differences in degree, true, and worth discussing they are, but not on the basis of either their antiquity or their "naturalness".


New Insights On 'Jumping Genes'

- Public Library of Science via Science Daily, Oct. 11, 2007


Keck Graduate Institute has announced that Dr. Animesh Ray, director of KGI's PhD program, has published a paper that sheds new light on the evolution of moveable genetic elements, or "jumping genes."

"We have known for some time that some genes can move from one place to another within the genome," said President Sheldon Schuster, PhD, KGI's president. "Dr. Ray's research provides evidence that this movement of genes does not cause instability at the point from which the gene moves. This discovery has important implications for our understanding of molecular evolution and genetic research involving plants, including genetically modified crops. These findings take us closer, for example, to more precisely predicting the changes a drought-resistant jumping gene from one plant put into another may cause to the DNA."

Using the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, Ray and his students studied the "footprint" that is left behind when a jumping gene moves to another locus. They devised a test for examining these footprints that revealed a mechanism for the broken DNA at the launching pad region (the original location of the jumping gene) to join together to repair the vacant area. The results indicated that the DNA repaired itself in a manner that did not produce drastic abnormalities.

Ray characterized the genomic DNA as "smart" for repairing itself in a manner that doesn't produce drastic abnormalities. He also said that the process of repairing is "ancient" because the mechanism appears similar to that used by the immune system of mammals. Ancestors of plants and mammals diverged early in evolution, at least 1.5 billion years ago.

The findings of Ray, his students Marybeth Langer and Lynn Sniderhan from the University of Rochester and co-author Ueli Grossniklaus, professor at the University of Zurich, were reported in the paper "Transposon Excision from an Atypical Site: A Mechanism of Evolution of Novel Transposable Elements." The work extends theories of the renowned cytogeneticist Barbara McClintock, who originally discovered moveable genetic elements. Ray's research also follows on the work of molecular geneticist Enrico Coen who has examined implications of moveable genes in plants and first proposed a similar mechanism of chromosome healing.

Citation: Langer M, Sniderhan LF, Grossniklaus U, Ray A (2007) Transposon Excision from an Atypical Site: A Mechanism of Evolution of Novel Transposable Elements. PLoS One 2(10): e965. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000965


UCD plant scientist honored by USDA for wheat research

- Daily Democrat (Woodland, Calif.), Oct. 12, 2007


UC Davis plant sciences professor Jorge Dubcovsky will be honored today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with its 2007 National Research Initiative "Discovery Award" for his genetic research on wheat.

He will receive his award during an annual celebration for the campus's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Dubcovsky and collaborating scientists with USDA and the University of Haifa in Israel cloned a gene from wild wheat that increases the protein, zinc, and iron content in the grain. This research breakthrough could boost the nutritional value of wheat and provide hope for millions of malnourished children around the world. More than 2 billion people are deficient in zinc and iron, and more than 160 million children under the age of five lack an adequate protein supply.

"Wheat is one of the world's major crops, providing approximately one-fifth of all calories consumed by humans," Dubcovsky says. "Even small increases in wheat's nutritional value may help decrease deficiencies."

The NRI Discovery Award recognizes outstanding agricultural researchers who have supported USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service and highlights the exceptional scientific and economic impacts of funded projects. CSREES advances knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting programs in the land-grant university system and other partner organizations.

Dubcovsky, a native of Argentina, began his career at UC Davis as a visiting scientist with Dr. Jan Dvorak in 1992 and later joined the professorial ranks in the agronomy department.

He now leads the UC Davis Wheat Breeding Program and Wheat Molecular Genetics Laboratory. Dubcovsky also leads a consortium of 20 public wheat-breeding programs, which is rapidly introducing valuable genes into U.S. wheat varieties with advanced molecular breeding techniques.

"Jorge Dubcovsky's Discovery Award is a well-deserved honor for a researcher with a consistent record of scientific accomplishment in one of our most important food crops," said Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "His leadership and genetics research is paving the way for the scientific community to increase the nutritional value of many cultivated wheat varieties and to improve the quality of life for millions of people."


Opposition to biotechnology will starve the world - British Crop Production Council

- Mike Abram, Farmers Weekly, Oct. 16, 2007


Opposition to biotechnology, agrochemicals and genetic modification will threaten the ability to feed an ever-increasing global population, the president of the British Crop Production Council has warned on the opening day of the organisation's congress.

In his opening address, Hugh Oliver-Bellasis suggested antipathy towards modern technology could lead to "modern starvation".

"During the past 10 years, consumption has quite often been greater than production; that is most unwise when the world demand grows year on year."

Without biotechnology, agrochemicals and genetic modification, the ability to produce more would evaporate quickly, he said.

"The solution won't be easy, but we have to convince policy makers that there is a political issue to be addressed as well as a practical one."

Political pressure on crop production was increasing, he pointed out.

"Next week, the European Parliament will consider new legislation that will further impede pesticide approvals - by basing them not on real risk but on potential hazards. This could seriously affect European farmers' day-to-day production. We must protect our ability to defend against pests and disease. If we do not we will legalise modern starvation."

The congress should aim to set an agenda and an action plan to address politicians and other key influencers, he stressed.


7,000 jobs at risk from FF-Green combination on GM feed issue - Creed

- Fine Gael National Press Office (press release), Oct. 3, 2007


Fine Gael Agriculture and Food Spokesperson, Michael Creed TD, has today (Wednesday) said that the combination of Fianna Fail and the Greens in Government would contribute to rising food prices and lead to job losses, especially in the pig and poultry industry.

"Fianna Fail's lack of commitment to a viable, vibrant agriculture industry coupled with Green Party political manoeuvering is a dangerous combination for farmers. In particular, decisions on the importation of genetically modified (GM) feed have the potential to badly damage the agricultural sector.

"Food Minister Trevor Sargent appears to be trying to ride two horses on this issue. The inevitable consequence of Green posturing on GM feed combined with FF indifference will be job losses in the pig and poultry sector immediately and higher food prices for consumers sooner rather than later.

"As the price of compound feeds increases due to Government inaction, the pig industry is immediately in the firing line. 7,000 jobs are at risk and if bacon products have to be imported prices will rise.

"Government pussy-footing on this issue is making it harder for farmers to plan and indeed some pig producers are not servicing their breeding stock because of the uncertainty.

"It is high time for a full debate on the whole GM issue instead of Government policy being determined by awkward attempts at consensus between FF and the Greens. Farmers need clear direction. Fine Gael believes that the best way to facilitate such a debate is to establish a Dáil Committee on Science & Technology which would, as its first function, facilitate a fully informed debate on GM food, feed and crops and their use or not in this country. Since the Dáil committees have not yet been established now is the ideal time to set up this specific forum."


MPs Pass Biosafety Law Amid Protest

- East African Standard (Nairobi) via AllAfrica.com, Oct. 11, 2007


The Biosafety Bill sailed through the Second Reading in Parliament amid protests by a lobby group that filed a court case against the introduction of Genetically Modified Foods.

Debate over the Bill was concluded on Tuesday when the House was hit by a quorum hitch as Science and Technology Minister, Dr Noah Wekesa, was responding to members' contributions.

When the House resumed yesterday, the Bill was disposed off within five minutes, in what looked like hurrying up the matter before it is entangled in lengthy court process.

The Bill seeks to regulate the modification of genetic organisms besides setting modalities for the establishment of the national biosafety authority.

The Bill outlines strict measures under which businessmen can be allowed to import GMOs. The Bill outlines the policies and the framework on how activities related to GMOs would be handled.

It also provides for the establishment, powers and functions of the National Biosafety Authority, as the focal point on issues pertaining to genetically modified organisms.

A scientist appointed by the minister will chair the 14-member board of the authority.

A lobby group and 13 individuals have gone to High Court to seek a national referendum on whether genetically modified organisms and foods should be produced, marketed, consumed and used.

The lobby group, Africa Nature Stream, and 13 others filed an injunction blocking debate and enactment of the Bill pending hearing and determination of the case.

If the Bill were rushed through the Committee Stage next week, it would mean the court case would have been overtaken by events.

But if the House were adjourned before the Bill is scrutinised by the Committee of the Whole House, it would mean that the Bill dies with the Ninth Parliament and the court case could succeed to ensure the Tenth Parliament, without consultation, does not revisit the matter.

The lobbyists opposed to the Bill claim the Government and MPs are pushing for the legislation as agents of biotechnology multi-nationals that are largely American.

Challenging the move to introduce GMOs, they allege the genetically modified foods have been known to cause terminal illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, chronic fatigue and hepatitis C among others.

They argue that apart from USA, where genetically modified organisms and foods technology were pioneered, Western Europe and Japan have remained skeptical about their use and consumption "on account of their unquantifiable risks and long-term environmental hazards."

Further, they claim that western nations are asking their citizens to consume organic foods and urging third world countries to embrace genetically modified foods.

The 14 applicants are of the view that widespread use and application of the biotechnology will replace native animals, traditional foods, plants and herbs well known to have high medicinal and curative ingredients.


Qatar considers introducing GM food-labelling law

- Gulf News, October 15, 2007


Doha: Qatar may become the first Gulf country to issue legislation regulating the market for genetically modified food, local media said recently.

According to the local daily Peninsula newspaper the Supreme Council for Environment and Natural Reserves (SCENR) is seeking approval to form a committee that will address the flow of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and related health concerns.

Qatar is part of the International Biosafety Protocol of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and is now planning to issue new legislation on GMOs to conform to the protocol requirements.

Andi Freimuller, a genetic engineer at Greenpeace International who met with SCENR officials here last week, told the daily that Qatar is overflowing with unlabelled genetically modified products.


"Our demand is to ban the GMO stuff. If not, the customers should be at least allowed to make their choice", he was quoted as saying.

According to Qatar's English daily Gulf Times in December 2006, Greenpeace commissioned the testing of 35 products containing maize currently sold in supermarkets in Qatar, the UAE and Kuwait.

Some 40 per cent of the tested samples revealed contamination with GMOs. In Qatar, four out of ten products contained GMOs. As is the case in other GCC countries, none of the products that contained GMOs was labelled, as these countries do not require compulsory labelling of such products. In early 2006, Greenpeace discovered the US imported rice products in Gulf countries and in more than 24 other countries all over the world, which were contaminated with an unauthorised GMO rice variety.

Consumers in the Middle East were likely to be eating GM food, not tested for long-term health impacts, without knowing it, the daily reported.

Quoting Ganem Abdullah Mohammad, director of Wildlife Conservation at the Supreme Council for Environment and Natural Reserves (SCENR), the Gulf Times said Qatar was not planning to ban the import of GM foods, but was more prone to introduce compulsory labelling. India may be another major supplier of GMO contaminated food.

"India, an important supplier of food products for Qatar has been conducting numerous field trials with GMO rice and six other food crops that have been exported to the Middle East in the recent past. Field trials carry the inherent risk of contaminating commercial crops. It is to be remembered that Qatar imported thousands of tonnes of rice from India last year," said the Peninsula.

SCENR officials were not immediately available to comment on the issue.


NO: Foods from large-scale farms are just as safe, less costly

- Amy Kaleita, Charlotte Observer, Oct. 15, 2007


Public interest in the environment is increasing, and the news is full of stories about food safety. Those developments have led many to push for a return to small organic farms.

Such farms do have advantages, but there is no guarantee that organic farms are better for the environment or food safety.

Organic farms ban the use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms, minimizing inadvertent effects on other organisms. However, whether such avoidance makes organic production "better" for the environment is largely a matter of personal priorities. For the most part, these chemicals, used properly, don't pose any net threat to the environment. Many objections to their use are philosophical rather than scientific.

Further, the required soil conservation practices are not unique to organic production. Many traditional growers use the same practices, even though not required, because of the associated soil fertility and erosion mitigation benefits.

Some types of organic food, such as poultry, require more energy to produce than their conventional counterparts. Production of organic milk requires more land input and generates more CO{-2} emissions.

Some may argue that organic production means more local food, thus cutting down the environmental impacts of the associated "food miles."

But a recent study from the United Kingdom's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs suggests that for some foods, global production might have a smaller environmental footprint than local production. While global products are transported long distances, they are also produced and transported in very large quantities, creating positive economies of scale.

Purely local food production is limited to only those crops well-suited to being grown in the local environment. This means a considerably diminished variety of foods for most consumers, and many organic foods are still transported long distances for this very reason.

Nor is it true that organic foods are necessarily a safer and healthier option than conventionally grown food. In a recent analysis of government data on fruit, vegetables and meats, Consumer Reports found that foods such as asparagus and bananas, even when treated with pesticides, do not tend to contain detectable levels of pesticides anyway. While the concept of any pesticides in or on our food sounds scary, the majority of conventional foods have no detectable pesticide residues.

There is the possibility of disease outbreaks from any food; the spinach responsible for last year's E. coli outbreak was grown on a small organic farm.

A comprehensive 2002 review of scientific research found that with the possible exception of nitrate content, there is no strong evidence that organic and conventional foods differ in concentrations of various nutrients.

We should continue to investigate sustainable farming practices. But the public should understand that conversion to small organic farms will not necessarily have notable environmental and food-safety benefits.

Amy Kaleita is an assistant professor of agricultural engineering at Iowa State University and a senior fellow in environmental studies with the Pacific Research Institute


How to Fight Childhood Blindness

By embracing genetically modified 'golden rice,' says Greenpeace co-founder PATRICK MOORE, the world can help millions of people in developing countries.

- Patrick Moore, The American, Oct. 12, 2007


It's been seven years since a Swiss research team demonstrated that genetically enhanced "golden rice" could help prevent vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which is responsible for roughly half a million cases of childhood blindness in developing countries each year. Indeed, golden rice was created by a German scientist named Ingo Potrykus to solve just this problem. Unfortunately, a number of activist groups such as Greenpeace have mounted public campaigns against it, trafficking in scare tactics and misinformation. As World Food Day (October 16th) approaches, we must renew our commitment to making available a food product that could vastly improve people's lives and prevent thousands of needless deaths.

Unlike other rice plants, golden rice produces beta-carotene in its seeds, through genetics that Potrykus and his team imported from corn. Beta-carotene is the precursor of vitamin A, which is crucial for vision and disease resistance. Yet Greenpeace insists that the unknown future consequences for human health and the environment make golden rice too risky. (Never mind the half million children who go blind every year as a result of VAD.)

I am often asked why I broke ranks with Greenpeace after co-founding the group in 1971 and then spending 15 years in its leadership as a full-time environmental activist. One of the main reasons was that by the mid-1980s the environmental movement had abandoned science and logic in favor of scare tactics and sensationalism.

At the same time, I became aware of the emerging concept of sustainable development, which takes environmental ideas and incorporates them into the traditional social and economic values that govern public policy and our daily behavior.

Every morning, six billion people wake up with real needs for food, energy, and materials. The challenge is to provide for these needs in ways that reduce our negative impact on the environment, are socially acceptable, and are technically and economically feasible. I came to believe that seeking consensus among environmentalists, the government, industry, and academia was essential for sustainability.

But not all my former colleagues saw things that way. Many environmentalists rejected consensus politics and sustainable development in favor of continued confrontation, ever-increasing extremism, and left-wing politics.

The case of golden rice provides a clear illustration. Some international agencies estimate that as many as 200 million people in the developing world - especially from countries in which rice is the dominant grain - suffer from VAD. Some of its adverse health effects include shorter lifespans, night blindness, corneal scars, blindness and measles among children, and night blindness among pregnant and lactating women.

There have been numerous scientific studies conducted on the potential effects of growing and using golden rice. They indicate that golden rice can indeed contribute, in a cost-effective manner, to the alleviation of VAD, thereby easing children's suffering and, in many cases, saving their lives.

My old Greenpeace compatriots counter these findings not with their own science, but rather with Hollywood-style fictions about "killer weeds" and "Frankenfoods." Their campaign suggests a complete lack of respect for science and logic. It is clear that the real benefits of genetic enhancement far outweigh the hypothetical and sometimes contrived risks claimed by its detractors.

What possible risk could there be from a corn gene in a rice paddy? Even in the unlikely event that vitamin A spread into other plants, I can't see how that would be harmful. On the other hand, the consequences of not planting and harvesting large quantities of golden rice are already obvious: a few million more children will go blind, and millions more will suffer. Yet Greenpeace activists threaten to rip the rice out of the fields if farmers dare to plant it. They have done everything they can to discredit the scientists and the technology.

But despite their opposition, some countries are using golden rice to combat malnutrition. Experts in the Philippines believe that by 2011 the first genetically enhanced rice will pass all Filipino regulatory requirements and make its much-awaited commercial debut. The country plans to release "three-in-one" golden rice, so called because it is fortified with vitamin A, iron, and zinc. This is a result of breeding golden rice into "PSB Rc82," the technical name for the most popular variety grown all over the Philippines.

Overall, we need to do more to break through the misinformation and hysteria surrounding golden rice - not to mention other genetically modified foods - and provide a more balanced picture to the general public. The programs of genetic research and development now under way in labs and field stations around the world focus on both society and the environment. Their purpose is to improve nutrition, reduce the use of synthetic chemicals, increase the productivity of our farmlands and forests, and improve human health. Those who have adopted a zero-tolerance attitude toward genetic modification threaten to deny these many benefits.

An adviser to government and industry, Patrick Moore was a co-founder of Greenpeace and is now chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver, British Columbia.


EU criticises Sweden over transparency move

- Helena Spongenberg, EUObserver, Oct. 10, 2007


BRUSSELS - The European Commission has taken the first step of legal action against Sweden for having given public access to a confidential document - a move that could ultimately see Stockholm defending its traditional policy of transparency in EU courts.

Late last month the commission sent a formal letter to the Swedish authorities asking for explanation as to why environment group Greenpeace in 2005 got access to a document about a new type of genetically modified corn feed to be launched by Monsanto - the world's leading producer of biotech seeds.

The information had on Monsanto's request been classified as secret by the Dutch government where it had handed in its application.

The commission then contacted Sweden after the biotech firm had complained that the leak could have damaged the company.

Greenpeace had been refused access to the report in the Netherlands and therefore turned to Sweden where - after taking the issue to the highest court - the NGO finally got the report from the Swedish Board of Agriculture - the government's expert authority in the field of agricultural and food policy.

Article 25

The EU executive referred to an article laid out in an EU directive for genetically modified organisms, which says that if an application with a request to market a biotech product has been classified by one member states, then this confidentiality must also count when other member state authorities take part in the application.

"Such a system would not function if different competent authorities would be able to have different standpoints in the matter of whether information would be treated confidentially or not," the commission argues in its letter, according to Swedish newspaper MedieVärlden.

It is on these grounds that Brussels has asked Sweden to explain how it implemented the directive into national law; whether Sweden recognises decisions made by other member states concerning the directive and how they justify their own decision.

It is too early to say what the Swedish government will reply to the commission, Magnus Blücher from the legal office of Swedish environment ministry told EUobserver.

He said the government is expecting an explanation from the agriculture board next week after which officials from the environment, justice and foreign affairs ministries will work together on an answer for Brussels.

Stockholm has until the end of November to reply to the commission's letter.

Swedish transparency

The principle of free access to public records in Sweden is very important, said Per Hultengård - freedom of expression expert at the Swedish Newspaper Publishers' Association (TU).

It is part of Sweden's cultural, historical and legal background. It is very well established, he told this news-site.

Mr Hultengård argued that when dealing with public documents sent to the Swedish authorities from other countries they should be subject to Swedish law and sometimes that clashes with community law.

The issue was controversial when Sweden negotiated its EU membership in 1994, with Stockholm declaring several times that it would maintain the widest public access and that it would strongly defend this right.

"I assume the Swedish government will continue this position", Mr Hultengård said.


Monsanto Announces Franz Innovation Award

- Monsanto Co. (press release), Oct. 11, 2007


ST. LOUIS -- Monsanto today announced the creation of an annual scholarship to celebrate the invention of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup brand herbicides, and to commemorate the induction of Dr. John Franz into the National Inventor's Hall of Fame.

Monsanto has created an endowment in Dr. Franz's name, which will allow the Monsanto Franz Innovation Award to be awarded annually to a graduate student in organic chemistry at the University of Minnesota, where Franz received his PhD. The first recipient of the award is Elena Sizova, a fourth year graduate student in organic chemistry.

"Dr. Franz's discovery helped build a product that served as the backbone for Monsanto's development into an agricultural company, and we are honored to celebrate that discovery more than 30 years later with this scholarship and endowment," said Sherri Brown, Monsanto's chemistry lead. "His discovery was pivotal in the history of agriculture, and we hope this scholarship will provide future scientists similar opportunities for innovation and advancement in agriculture and chemistry."

Franz was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame(R) in Akron, Ohio on May 5th, which honors the women and men responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible. He joined the inventors of the steam engine, radio, frozen food, antibiotics, genetic engineering as well as agricultural innovators such as George Washington Carver, John Deere, and Eli Whitney, who were previously inducted to the Hall of Fame.

"I'm very honored and excited that this scholarship will help students and future scientists with their education at my Alma Matter, and that it will help the University of Minnesota continue to recruit quality students," said Franz. "I'm also pleased that this endowment will go on in perpetuity, providing an opportunity to grow in value and continue to provide assistance for students in the future."

"I feel very privileged to be a recipient of the Franz Innovation Award Scholarship," said Sizova. "The award strengthens my interests to do research in organic chemistry, which I believe is one of the most important sciences. I would like to thank Monsanto Company for this unique opportunity and making my experience as a graduate student even more exciting and motivating."

Agricultural innovations such as Roundup herbicides improve the quality of life for all of society. Roundup brand herbicides have reached farther than just the farm. They are used in homes, gardens, zoos, golf courses, conservation areas, and habitat restoration projects, protecting sensitive areas from invasive weed species. Roundup agricultural herbicides allow farmers to produce abundant, healthy food while stewarding the environment and consumer formulations enable homeowners to maintain healthy and attractive gardens. Monsanto's glyphosate products are registered in more than 130 countries and are approved for weed control in more than 100 crops. No other herbicide's active ingredient compares in terms of number of approved uses.

Franz was born in Springfield, Illinois. He received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Illinois and the University of Minnesota. Franz is a Distinguished Fellow and the recipient of the first Queeny Award, Monsanto's highest technical award given in recognition of invention of significant, proprietary technology that resulted in commercial success. He was also awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1987 and the Perkin Medal in 1990. He holds over 840 U.S. and foreign patents.

For more information on the Franz Scholarship, please visit http://www.monsanto.com/features/john_franz.asp

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