* Field Trials In Mexico Gain Support
* Drought-resistant maize trials to start
* EU decision will destroy Irish farmers
* Seehofer criticizes German farmers' union
* Designer Bt kills resistant insects
* Genes Protect Brassicas From Virus
* Award For Risk Distribution Evolutionary Law
* Tip: Science-based Discussions with Consumers
* Don't let GM wars obscure agbiotech vision
* Symposium: biotechfruit2008
* Video: What's for Lunch?
Biotech Field Trials In Mexico Gain Populist Support
- Food Chemical News, Oct. 29, 2007
Long-awaited regulations governing use of biotech products in Mexico are expected later this month, and the chances of prompt implementation improved greatly when the populist National Federation of Farmers (CNC) voiced support for controlled field trials.
Former Mexican president Vicente Fox wavered on giving the green light to field trials near the end of his term, but Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas is making it very clear that President Felipe Calderon will not back down. If field trials get underway later this year, biotech corn seeds could be sold commercially in Mexico as of 2009. In anticipation of the regulatory package, the National Sanitation Service has approved 39 applications to plant bioengineered crops, and biotech companies are champing at the bit to get started (see FCN Aug. 6, Page 5).
Cardenas is going out of his way to convince populist farm associations such as the CNC that their members have more to gain than to lose from controlled experimental plantings. He pointed out that the regulatory package stands to boost foreign investment in Mexican agricultural and biotech projects. That, in turn, would stimulate the creation of rural micro-enterprises while better positioning farmers to compete in a global setting. He gave assurances that the regulations would allow farmers to boost production without jeopardizing consumers or the environment.
Addressing leading agricultural producers in Guadalajara, Cardenas assured his audience that rules governing implementation of the National Biosafety Law will be detailed enough to offset concerns related to the impact of biotech corn on native varieties.
"Very soon we will release regulations governing the where's, when's, and why's [of biotech commercialization], and they will provide the safeguards needed to implement biotechnology at all stages of agricultural and fishery production," he said.
Shift in the wind
The politically powerful CNC has steadfastly fought biotech corn cultivation in Mexico since passage of the Biosafety Law, and its policies were closely aligned with those of an opposition coalition spearheaded by Greenpeace. However, a major schism emerged in the anti-biotech alliance when Sergio Guajardo, CNC leader in the agriculturally rich state of Tamaulipas, announced that members could benefit from biotech field trials as long as they are conducted in accordance with the soon-to-be-published regulatory package.
Guajardo pointed out that farmers in the United States have achieved improved yields and profitability by planting biotech crops, and that those results warrant controlled plantings in Mexico. He is painfully aware that farmers who plant conventional corn seeds in his home state of Tamaulipas will experience a distinct competitive disadvantage relative to competitors in neighboring Texas when NAFTA protective tariffs disappear on Jan. 1.
The CNC conditioned its support for field trials on President Calderon's promise that the regulatory structure will safeguard native corn varieties. Because the Mexican president would like to cement his hard won alliance with the CNC, he will likely go out of his way to avoid incidents that could strengthen the hand of the Greenpeace alliance.
Drought-resistant maize trials to start soon
- Hans Pienaar, The Star (South Africa), Oct. 22, 2007
Trials for a new drought-resistant gene to be used in genetically modified crops will start next month in various locations in South Africa, according to seed producers Monsanto.
The news comes as Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk warned in parliament that climate change would lead to a 20 percent reduction in the maize crop over the next 25 years.
Kobus Steenkamp, biotechnology manager of Monsanto in South Africa, said during a visit arranged for the media to Monsanto's experimental farm near Malelane in Mpumalangaa that the company had been granted permission to locally start testing the "drought-gene" developed in United States laboratories.
According to Monsanto's calculations, 30 percent of maize in SA is at risk of failing because of drought - by far the most important factor in crop failures.
The "drought tolerance product" causes maize plants to make more efficient use of the water they get, as well as to "tolerate" the absence of water.
At first, the gene will be bred into maize lines, but drought-tolerant soybeans and cotton are expected to be on the market "early in the next decade".
Proud Monsanto managers said over 55 percent of all maize planted for the next harvest will be genetically modified (GM). Their projections show that this will soon shoot up to 75 percent.
"This is the single technology that is reshaping agriculture and industry and revolutionising medicine," said a press release.
Steenkamp rejected claims that GM foods were harmful to human health.
"I have been eating GM 'mieliepap' for years, and there is nothing wrong with me," he said.
Hundreds of millions of consumers in the United States have so far not reported a single side effect from eating GM foods.
He also dismissed claims that Monsanto's gene manipulations would create "Frankenfood" by transplanting genes from one species to another, saying that Monsanto's ethical code prohibited this.
He pointed out that gene manipulations do not add any foreign materials to foods, since they work with the same amino acids that human stomachs break down during metabolysis - no new amino acids ones are added to the food chain. Neither are any new allergens added, which might be the case with products flown in from different areas.
Future products that might be introduced into SA agriculture include "omega-3 soybeans", which would bring the heart-healthy fatty acid, common to fish like salmon, into consumer diets.
"As the global climate changes, the need for rapid adaptation of our current cultivated crops will become increasingly important," the press release said.
In the past two years Monsanto's market share has skyrocketed, on top of its introduction of RoundupReady herbicides. The seeds and herbicides are sold to farmers in a marketing operation that has recently been integrated.
RoundupReady kills all plant life in a field sprayed by hand from a backpack.
Monsanto maize seeds with a gene that resists the herbicide are then planted. The company markets the combination of chemical and seed as drastically reducing labour costs for weeding and the use of pesticides.
Some environmental activists claim RoundupReady is toxic.
But Steenkamp said GM maize, which also includes hybrids that resist worms and insects, obviates the use of pesticides that are sometimes sprayed on to homes in the vicinity of traditional fields.
Dave Kleyn of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, of which Monsanto is a sponsor, agreed, and said his organisation would soon start with with assessments of reduced usage of pesticides on farms near Winterton, KwaZulu Natal.
Monsanto is also intimately involved in a project to help emerging farmers learn to farm. The RoundupReady and GM maize combination is well suited to new farmers who cannot afford the labour to weed fields or the pesticides for traditional crops.
More than half of all maize sold to South African consumers is the product of genetic engineering, according to new statistics released by Monsanto.
GM foods have become controversial for their alleged harmful effects on human health.
GM maize has been produced for 12 years already in South Africa, and GM patents have been passed by European Union bodies, where consumer resistance to GM foods is the greatest, Steenkamp added.
Bright Breytenbach, Monsanto's maize and sunflower manager in SA, said that 55 percent of all new seeds sold to farmers for the next season had been genetically modified.
He said it was impossible for consumers to distinguish between GM maize and non-GM maize, since grain silos are no longer able to store them separately. In addition, cross-pollination from GM fields to non-GM fields occurs regularly.
"If you buy a bag of maize meal at a supermarket, you can be assured that more than half of it will have been genetically modified," he added.
The GM seeds are prepared in US laboratories and brought to Malelane, where they are introduced to hybrid lines of maize in a process that takes at least two years. They are then given to "pivot farmers", who breed more seeds that are then taken to a dryer plant near Lichtenburg.
Monsanto has invested R120-million in upgrading the plant.
EU decision on Agrochemicals will destroy Irish farmers, says ASA
FreshPlaza.com, Oct. 31, 2007
The Agricultural Science Association (ASA) has slammed last week's decision by the European Parliament on the regulation of plant protection products. ASA president, Gerry Scully, said the decision could result in the banning of up to 60pc of the top 10 plant protection products, leading to devastating consequences for yields and income in tillage farming.
Vegetable and grass production would also seriously suffer, he said, adding: "The European Parliament has ignored the overwhelming scientific evidence on the safety of plant protection products.
"As well as seriously restricting the use of long-established and proven-safe products, the decision would also severely restrict the development and use of new products.
"Unless the European Parliament decision is amended by the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers, the ability of Irish and EU farmers to produce sufficient quantities of safe, quality food will be dramatically curtailed," he concluded.
Stressing Ireland's unique vulnerability to wet weather fungal diseases such as potato blight and septoria in cereals, Gerry Scully said arbitrary restrictions on the use of scientifically proven products would have much greater implications for yields, quality, incomes and employment in Ireland.
"If the Parliament decision was reflected in EU legislation, the end result would be an increase in imports of food that is not produced to the same rigorous standards as in the EU. With world food stocks at their lowest level in decades, the cost of food would also increase," he said.
Seehofer criticizes German farmers' union
- Mark Inglin, Checkbiotech, Oct. 30, 2007
The Federal Minister for the Interior for Nutrition, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Horst Seehofer, considers arguments by the farmers' union opposing the cultivation of genetically modified plants to be "an excuse." In an interview with the weekly newspaper, "Das Parlament" (October 22, 2007 publication), the CSU politician said, "The farmers' union contends that it cannot recommend genetic engineering because we have not relaxed the liability law."
In fact, other motives were at issue. The farmers' union should "be honest enough to say that we don't recommend it because the vast majority of farmers do not want it." The indirect demand by the union to relax the liability law would, in Seehofer's view, "have a disadvantageous effect on farmers" because farmers who do not want to have anything to do with genetic engineering would have to struggle much harder with the consequences of mixing conventional plants with genetically modified material. "That is why I do not understand the argument at all," Seehofer commented.
The criticism of the farmers' union comes from Seehofer's decision not to relax the liability law for genetic farmers. Consequently, genetic farmers whose fields wind-pollinate neighboring arable land must be responsible for any financial damage if neighboring farmers are no longer able to sell their conventional harvests at the usual price. If no particular individual can be found to be at cause, then, according to the principle of "joint and several liability by parties independent of fault," all farmers involved with genetically modified plants would have to pay.
In a discussion with "Das Parlament" Seehofer pleaded for the monitoring of transgenic corn. Routinely monitoring how things are evolving and obtaining timely information are the only ways to "answer the question of what kind of long term consequences will arise." In this case, he is reacting to the fears of environmental groups that the cultivation of transgenic corn could lead to an insidious decline in the purity of foods.
In an interview for the same edition of "Das Parlament," Seehofer's official predecessor, Renate Kuenast (Buendis 90/Die Gruenen), took the side of the farmers' union. In the amendment of the genetic engineering law that was dismissed with an up-or-down vote, the government wanted to "drastically dilute" important protective regulations. It would have struck from the law the fact that the cultivation of genetically modified plants "fundamentally must not endanger agriculture that is free of genetic engineering." That is why environmental and consumer groups protested the changes "by rights."
With regard to the labeling of foods as is currently being discussed, Seehofer is promoting uniform labeling of foods to include the most important nutritional values "so that the public can gain sound, simple information about how much sugar, or how much fatty acids and so on are contained in a food." The so-called go-or-no-go type of labeling that, among others, is being promoted by Renate Kuenast is "too simple."
In turn, in a discussion with "Das Parlament," Kuenast characterized Seehofer's decision in favor of voluntary labeling of foods by industry as "blatantly wrong." Everyone must be able to distinguish between basic nutrition and candy at first glance, which is what the go-or-no-go type of labeling achieves, and which must be obligatory. Voluntary measures have "led to absolutely nothing so far." Such measures have been "judged as failures," according to Kuenst.
New designer toxins kill Bt-resistant insect pests
- PhysOrg.com, Nov. 1, 2007
A new way to combat resistant pests stems from discovering how the widely used natural insecticide Bt kills insects. Figuring out how Bt toxins punch holes in the cells of an insect's gut was the key to designing the new toxins, according to a Mexico-U.S. research team.
Some insects have developed resistance to Bt toxins, naturally occurring insecticides used worldwide to combat pests of crops such as cotton and corn and also disease-carrying mosquitoes.
"This is the first time that knowledge of how Bt toxins work and how insects become resistant have been used to design toxins that kill resistant insects," said research team member Bruce Tabashnik of The University of Arizona in Tucson.
The discovery is important for cotton-growing areas such as northern Mexico, Texas and Arizona. More than 90 percent of Arizona's approximately 200,000 acres of cotton are planted in the biotech cotton known as Bt cotton.
"Our goal is to control insects in environmentally friendly ways so we can limit the damage that insects do to crops and the harm they do to people by transmitting disease," said Tabashnik, head of the UA's entomology department and a member of the UA's BIO5 Institute.
"Bt toxins are great for that because they only kill certain insects and don't harm other living things. These new designer toxins give us another environmentally friendly way to control insects."
The Mexico team developed the designer toxins by tweaking the gene that codes for the toxin, a protein. The researchers then teamed up with Tabashnik to test their modified toxins on UA's colony of Bt-resistant pink bollworms, major cotton pests.
Team member Alejandra Bravo, a research scientist at Universidad Nacional Autonóma de México (UNAM) said, "We proposed that changing a small part of the toxin would kill the insect -- and we did it."
The team's research article, "Engineering Modified Bt Toxins to Counter Insect Resistance," is scheduled for publication in Science Express, the online version of the journal Science, on Thursday, Nov. 1.
The collaboration between the UNAM team of molecular biologists and the American expert in the evolution of pest resistance happened by accident.
Mario Soberón and Alejandra Bravo, a husband-wife research team, had invited Tabashnik to give a talk in Cuernavaca, Mexico, at a scientific conference on pore-forming bacterial toxins such as Bt solution.
Tabashnik said, "While I was there, I got turista -- which is caused by pore-forming bacterial toxins. I was pretty sick."
The couple cared for Tabashnik while he recovered. He asked what he could do to repay their kindness, and Soberón suggested collaborating to test their designer toxins on UA's resistant insects.
"It was the perfect match," Tabashnik said. "We knew what made our strains resistant, and they hypothesized that their designer toxins could overcome the resistance."
The discovery is based on understanding a receptor molecule called cadherin on the insects' gut membranes. Normal cadherin binds with the Bt toxin in a lock-and-key fashion.
After the toxin binds, an enzyme hacks a bit off each toxin molecule.
The trimmed toxin molecules clump and form pores in the gut membrane cells. The pores let materials flow chaotically in and out of the cells. As a result cells and ultimately the insect die.
Tabashnik and his UA colleagues Tim Dennehy and Yves Carrière knew the Bt-resistant pink bollworms in their colony had a mutant version of cadherin.
Tabashnik said, "These resistant insects have genetic changes, mutations, that change the lock. Their cadherin no longer takes the key."
The UNAM team did an end-run around the resistant insects' strategy. The modified, or designer, toxins have that crucial bit already gone, so they clump and form the death-dealing pores. No cadherin needed.
Bravo said, "When Bruce told us it killed the insects, we were very happy. We know if it kills resistant insects, it will be very important."
The researchers have applied for a multinational patent for the designer toxins. UNAM is the lead organization in the patent.
Combating Bt-resistant pests without using broad-spectrum insecticides can make agriculture safer for farm workers, better for the environment and more profitable for growers, Tabashnik said.
He said, "The university research that helped produce this new invention is an investment that can bring returns to the state of Arizona."
Genes Identified To Protect Broccoli, Cabbage, Other Brassicas, From Damaging Virus
- Science Daily, Nov 2, 2007
Scientists have identified a new way to breed brassicas, which include broccoli, cabbage and oilseed rape, resistant to a damaging virus. Their discovery has characterised a form of resistance that appears to be durable, broad-spectrum and unlikely to be overcome by the virus over time. Turnip mosaic virus (TuMV) is an economically devastating virus that infects a wide range of cultivated plants, but especially brassicas.
In research published recently in the Journal of General Virology, scientists at Warwick HRI and collaborators have identified genes that confer resistance to the virus and, crucially, as multiple genes are involved, provide resistance that the virus appears not to have been able to evolve to overcome.
The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and others, could have important broader implications for plant breeders and farmers as TuMV is a member of the Potyvirus family -- the biggest family of viruses that attack plants -- and an important model for understanding other viruses.
The Warwick HRI scientists have examined a number of types of genes that determine plant responses to virus attack. One response is for the plant to kill off individual cells if they become infected, thereby restricting the viral infection to a very localised area of the plant. Another response is to restrict virus movement within the plant and stop its spread from leaf to leaf. The researchers have identified a number of genes that appear to not allow any replication of the virus in plants when it is introduced into the plant.
Dr John Walsh, the research group leader, said: "Turnip mosaic virus can cause big economic losses for farmers. We have identified multiple genes that give some varieties of brassica resistance to the virus. By breeding these genes into commercial varieties of the crop, using conventional techniques, breeders can protect them from attack. But most importantly, we have identified broad-spectrum resistance provided by a number of genes. This means we potentially have the means to develop brassicas, such as broccoli, that will be robust enough to prevent the virus mutating to overcome the resistance."
Professor Simon Bright, Director of Warwick HRI, commented: "This research demonstrates the importance of centres such as Warwick HRI in linking fundamental bioscience to developments that benefit growers and consumers. In the three years since we transferred to become part of the University of Warwick, Warwick HRI has built on its core strengths in horticulture and is now at the forefront of efforts, such as the BBSRC Crop Science Initiative, to turn excellent plant science in to real benefits for crop production."
Dr Walsh's team has recently been awarded more funding by BBSRC under its Crop Science Initiative to take this research further.
Innovative Investigator Receives Award For Risk Distribution Evolutionary Law
- Medical News Today, Nov. 2, 2007
Prof. Naama Barkai will receive the Helen and Martin Kimmel Award for Innovative Investigation on Monday, Nov. 5 at the Weizmann Institute. The award is accompanied by a research grant of a million dollars over five years.
Taking a chance on an experiment -- this is one of the impulses that drive evolution. Living cells are, from this angle, great subjects for experimentation: Changes in one molecule can have all sorts of interesting consequences for many other molecules in the cell. Such experiments on genes and proteins have led the cell, and indeed all life, on a long and fascinating evolutionary journey.
Prof. Naama Barkai of the Weizmann Institute's Molecular Genetics Department recently took a look at gene expression -- the process in which the encoded instructions are translated into proteins -- and the evolution of mechanisms in the cell for controlling that expression. Changes in genes, and thus in protein structure, are a double-edged sword: They can give cells new abilities or advantages for survival, but they can also spell disease or death for the organism. Not all genes evolve at the same rate. Indeed, some have been conserved through long stretches of evolution: Similar versions of some genes are found in yeast, plants, worms, flies and humans. When do cells hold on to specific gene sequences, and when do they allow evolution to experiment with them"
Clearly, highly conserved genes fulfill some basic, universal function for all life, and changes in their sequences have drastic consequences, involving death or the inability to multiply. How does evolution 'decide' which genes need to be conserved, and which it can change freely" What keeps these genes safe from the ongoing experimentation that's constantly carried out on other genes"
Barkai and her team discovered a sort of 'risk distribution law' for evolution. They found that a genetic 'phrase' that regularly shows up in the promoter region of genes (the bit of genetic code responsible for activating the gene) contains a key to gene conservation: The expression of a gene that contains the sequence TATA in its promoter is more likely to have evolved than that of a gene that does not have TATA in its promoter. In other words, the level of risk appears to written in the genetic code, in a way that's similar to financial risk analysis: When the cost of error is high, an investor's willingness to chance the risk is low, but if the cost of a mistake is negligible, even if the chance of making one is high, the possibility of gain may make the risk worthwhile. Evolution, it seems, discovered this principle millions of years before Wall Street.
In a different study, Barkai and her research team investigated the effects of a drastic evolutionary experiment that nature sometimes performs on living cells: the doubling of an entire genome. They looked at two related species of yeast, one of which (S. cerevisiae) had undergone genome doubling millions of years ago. After the duplication, Cerevisiae seem to have learned a new trick: They gained the ability to grow and multiply without oxygen.
To find out if this difference is connected to changes in gene expression, the team tested 50 genes that play a role in processing oxygen in both species. They discovered one gene segment -- a bit responsible for expression of these genes -- that had changed in the course of the genome doubling in cerevisiae. The effects of this change were seen in over 50 genes and dramatically affected the oxygen requirements of the yeast.
The ability to live without oxygen might give cerevisiae a clear advantage over its sister yeast if there were a radical change in the make-up of the Earth's atmosphere. But it is exactly this combination of environmental change and genetic experimentation that has fueled evolution for millions of years and is still driving it today.
Business Tip - Part 7: Having Science-based Discussions with Consumers
- RetailWire (free subscription required), Web accessed Nov. 2, 2007
Among the proven benefits of agricultural biotechnology is the fact that GM crops can reduce the amount of plow required, allowing farmers to adopt what is known as "conservation tillage" practices. According to the Conservation Tillage Information Center and the USDA, these and other conservation measures are reducing soil erosion by 1 billion tons and saving consumers $3.5 billion in water treatment costs annually in the U.S. alone.
Biotech crops have also played an important role in boosting the productivity of existing farmland - easing the way toward the protection of at least 400 million acres of prairies, forests and other natural areas from cultivation over the past decade. These areas provide food and shelter for wildlife and preserve biodiversity.
In short, there's much to be said for supporting the science of biotechnology if your company supports the principles of agricultural sustainability. However, GM advancements have long been associated with controversy. And food retailers often seem to operate under the assumption that their shoppers will react adversely to knowledge that this technology is used in producing much of what appears on their grocery shelves.
To consider the retailer and consumer perspectives on this topic, we interviewed Ryan Mathews, founder and ceo, Black Monk Consulting and Patrick Kiernan, Managing Partner, Day/Kiernan & Associates.
Question: Do you see a need for a more open discussion with consumers about what constitutes sustainable agricultural production - driven by data, not belief?
Everyone - consumers, retailers, farmers, regulators and legislators, manufacturers and special interest groups - needs to begin a fact-based discussion of what is and is not sustainable and the near and far-term consequences of pursuing certain policies. That discussion should, properly at least, begin with a set of common, workable definitions the first of which would address what the term sustainability itself means.
To some degree or another both the pro and anti-GM crop positions are driven by belief. On the one hand is the belief that pure science holds the answer to most questions - versus the nature knows best argument on the other. The problem, of course, is that in some ways both "sides" of this issue are simultaneously right and wrong. Sustainability is still a moving target, one so large and diffuse almost any ideological position can find comfort in its shadow simply by saying, "Oh, they (the opposition) is wrong; genuine sustainability consists of (followed by a series of self-justifying, solipsistic assumptions)."
In truth, I don't think that food retailers have the choice not to engage their shoppers on the subject of sustainable agriculture. Now with both Tesco and Wal-Mart's commitment to teaching consumers about sustainability and the carbon footprint of food products, all retailers must become equally well informed and share product knowledge. The definition of a green grocer is rapidly changing - from produce knowledge to the ecology of how all food is produced. Our old model of links in the supply chain is giving way to a consumer understanding of a food ecosystem that starts with a seed and ends as a meal.
Question: Do you think food retailers would gain if consumers could be shown the "green" aspects of biotech - i.e. the economic and environmental benefits?
One person's "green" is another person's unnatural disaster. The pro-biotech forces correctly point to the tragic and completely (from a scientific and agronomic point of view) death of millions of people and the vectoring of diseases aided and abetted by malnutrition. The "pure greens" on the other hand can make a case for the need for biodiversity and the fact that thousands of botanical species are disappearing across the globe thanks to specific agricultural and land use policies. At its very heart, the issue of our human obligation to each other and to the planet is visceral and emotional. It's also one most U.S. consumers at least will have a hard time fully embracing.
Given the scope and complexity of questions around sustainability and the environment it seems a bit far fetched to assume that consumers will become enlightened, especially in a society that seemed to pivot for almost two months around the burning issue of who was Anna Nicole Smith's "baby daddy." Come on...if it takes us a media circus to understand paternity, how are we going to understand something like the long-term environmental impact of an agricultural policy?
So, clearly, the need for a more open discussion on sustainability in general and GM crops in particular is there but I'm afraid I'm too skeptical to believe we're anywhere near ready for an intelligent debate yet - at least as far as the issues have been framed to date.
Retailers would be wise to use science-based information to inform consumers about such terms as green, GM, natural and organic and not view these issues as just marketing opportunities. In many cases, organic or local will not be the most sustainable agriculture practice. Retailers that promote organic and natural as "better for you" risk providing misinformation and subliminally suggest that the plus 30,000 other items offered for sale in today's supermarket are somehow not as good or nutritious.
Fact-based selling will ultimately prevail and provides protection from radical and special interest groups.
Guest ed. note: Tips posted earlier on the site are Part 1: The Rise of Sustainability in Food Retailing; Part 2: Principles of Sustainability...Applied to Food Retailing; Part 3: The Consumer Perception of Food Industry Efforts; Part 4: How Retailers are Displaying Their Sustainability Colors; Part 5: Why Agricultural Sustainability is a Critical Issue for Food Retailing; and Part 6: The Debate Over Ethanol Production.
Don't let the GM crop wars obscure the agbiotech vision
- Nuala Moran, Science Business, Oct. 31, 2007
News that planting of genetically modified crops in Europe grew by 77 per cent last year is a chink of light for protagonists who have worked so hard for acceptance of the technology.
But the area remains mired in a controversy that has already cost Europe dear in terms of research and investment in agricultural biotechnology, and the failure to develop any meaningful commercial sector.
While this spilt milk represents a significant economic loss, the greater problem is that the continuing argument over first-generation genetically modified crops - remember, we're talking 1980s technology here - has created a massive roadblock to future, more sophisticated and more refined agbiotech developments.
Europe's concerted anti-GM mindset is standing in the way of crucial advances in biotechnology that will promote sustainability and protect the environment. Locked in an impasse over first-generation GM crops, Europe is failing to notice that the technology has moved on.
The agbiotech aversion
These early products may indeed be clunky and unsuited to growing conditions here, but such reservations have been allowed to develop into an aversion to all aspects of agbiotech. Think what would have happened if the public had so firmly, and in such a once-and-for-all way, rejected mobile phones because the early models were as big as house bricks.
It has been estimated that by 2030 around a third of chemicals and materials will be produced from biological sources and through biocatalysis. Achieving this will depend on the development of novel plants, providing increased yields and suitable for industrial processing.
But the row over GM crops continues to obscure this larger vision of biotech applied to develop sustainable industrial processes, biofuels being called up to combat global warming, genetically modified plants being used as factories for therapeutics proteins, enzymes and biopolymers, and - following on from their first generation cousins - increasing crop yields and bringing marginal land into production.
The failure to win acceptance of biotech crops has been put down to public aversion to risk.
But the public should be told: doing nothing is riskier.
Of course there are risks, and there will be setbacks in the development and adoption of next generation biotechnologies. That's why we have regulators, assessing products as they are developed, and monitoring them when they reach the market.
But the inescapable fact is that the consequences of not applying these green technologies will be greater, both environmentally and economically.
First International Symposium on Biotechnology of Fruit Species
ISHS Commission Biotechnology and Molecular Biology
[The event] will be held September 1-5, 2008 in Dresden, Germany, under the auspices of the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS).
Pre-Registration August 31, 2007
Abstract Submission February 28, 2008
Early Bird Registration June 15, 2008
Submission of manuscripts for Acta Horticulturae September 1, 2008
Symposium September 1-5, 2008
This symposium builds on previous symposia of tropical and subtropical species and follows the successful symposium in Daytona, Florida in 2005, which covered biotechnology and transformation of tropical and temperate species. The upcoming symposium will explore the progress being made in temperate, tropical, and subtropical fruit species.
Main topics: http://www.biotechfruit2008.bafz.de/meeting/topics.htm
What's for Lunch?
- IFICWhatsForLunch, YouTube, Oct. 29, 2007
"What's for Lunch?" -- a humorous and entertaining look at some of the issues related to the various ways food is grown prior to making it to our plates at school or elsewhere!
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net