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Date:

November 12, 2007

Subject:

Biosafety Regulation Sourcebook; Cultural differences regarding biotech; Greens push yellow button

 

* Project seeks cotton genes
* Sow technologies, reap benefits
* Yalta Declaration
* Open season?
* Cultural differences regarding biotech
* Greens push yellow peril button
* Researchers Look To Lettuce
* The Biosafety Regulation Sourcebook
* AgBioForum
* CropBiotech Update

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Project seeks genes that can be tweaked to get the best cotton

While the cotton genome has not been mapped yet, the project leader says it would be similar to other plant genomes but differ with respect to boll and fibre development.

- Jacob P. Koshy, LiveMint, Nov. 8, 2007

http://www.livemint.com/2007/11/08003108/Project-seeks-genes-that-can-b.html

New Delhi: Scientists in India are poised to kick off a research project to identify and manipulate genes in cotton, especially in Gossypium hirsutum, India's most popular variety of cotton.

Among other things, the project, which will compete with similar work being undertaken in other countries, seeks to identify genes that determine the quality of the fibre. Scientists then hope to use the discovery to develop superior quality cotton.

"This is a first-of-its-kind project," said V. Siva Reddy, the project leader, "and is expected to provide a fundamental understanding of the various genes that trigger the development of a cotton boll." A boll is the seed capsule of the cotton plant, from which the fibre is extracted.

The five-year project, funded under the World Bank-sponsored National Agricultural Innovation Project (Naip), involves four organizations: the Delhi unit of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, a United Nations-promoted research organization; the department of genetics, University of Delhi; the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka; and J.K. Agrigenetics Ltd.

Reddy emphazised that novel genes and promoters identified through the project will be protected in the form of patents by Naip.

Although the cotton genome has not been mapped yet, Reddy says that it would be similar to other plant genomes but differ signficantly with respect to boll and fibre development.

Since a host of environmental factors - such as temperature and humidity - can make a single gene exhibit varied behaviour, this project aims to create a huge database of how genes that influence boll development respond to a range of environmental factors, Reddy added.

Cotton is an important cash crop in India and is presently cultivated in approximately 916 million hectares. Of this, according to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Bt cotton, the only genetically-modified crop that is legally cultivated in the country, is cultivated in about 2.4 million acres. Of the Bt cotton, 90% belongs to Gossypium Hirsutum variety, which is native to the US, and has been cultivated in India for the last two decades.

International work of similar nature include the Centre for Cotton Research and Development project in Australia that has been trying to pinpoint genes that determine why certain varieties of cotton are longer and stronger.

But these studies have been concentrated on local Australian varieties, said Katherine Malone, a scientist involved with the project, in an email.

V.N. Deshpande, a geneticist based out of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, said, "It's a good idea to have a repository, but such projects are already happening internationally. So it's a kind of race, where the first to win will patent their findings. So if we are beaten to that, much of the project could be a waste."

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Sow technologies, reap benefits

Widespread use of the technology together with intensive or high input cultivation has resulted in a rapid increase in yields of major crops and in lowering production cost.

- G. Chandrashekhar, The Hindu, Nov. 11, 2007

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/iw/2007/11/11/stories/2007111150601300.htm

Global agricultural commodity markets are simply huge. Look at the production numbers: Cereals over 2,000 million tonnes; oilseeds nearly 400 million tonnes; sugar 140 million tonnes; cotton 26 million tonnes (150 million bales) and so on. On the other hand, the Earth is home to over six billion people who have to be fed. Agricultural crops have to be processed to make them fit for human consumption. This has spawned a large food-processing sector.

Feed for livestock and poultry is another major outlet. Differences in natural endowments across regions, level of investment, infusion of modern practices, policy support and varying emphasis on agriculture across regions, all impact the nature, type and quantum of agricultural crop production. Availability of land, water and sunlight are critical for farm promotion. Population size, income levels and consumption habits determine demand for agricultural commodities. No wonder, there are regional and seasonal variations in production.

Harvesting crops

While countries in the tropics are able to harvest two crops a year (due to abundant sunlight - most crops are photo-sensitive), those in the temperate zone are often able to harvest only one crop because of limited availability of sunlight. Regional and seasonal variations in production, on the one hand, and year-long consumption, on the other, as also surpluses in one region and shortages in another, have resulted in goods moving from one place to the other leading to world trade in agricultural commodities.

Farm fears

In recent years, the growth rates of world agricultural production and crop yields have slowed. This has raised fears that the world may not be able to grow enough food and other commodities to ensure that future populations are adequately fed. However, the slowdown has occurred not because of shortage of land or water, but because the demand for agricultural products has also slowed. The world population growth rates have been declining since the late 1960s and fairly high levels of food consumption per person are now being reached in many countries, beyond which further rises will be limited, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). However, it is also the case that a high share of the world's population remains in absolute poverty and, therefore, lacks the necessary income to translate its needs into effective demand. A more recent phenomenon is the growing importance of Asia in food production and consumption.

Impacting trade

While the industrialised nations have traditionally been large producers, consumers and exporters of food crops, in recent years Asia has begun to play an important role both as a producer and consumer of farm commodities. China and, more recently, India have begun to register robust rates of GDP growth. The population of the two countries together (2.4 billion) represents close to 40 per cent of the humanity. These two countries are also large producers and consumers of a host of farm goods. So, Asia is now emerging as a major producer and consumer of a wide variety of agricultural commodities and is in a position to impact world trade.

Global output drivers

Over the last ten years or so, technology and subsidy have turned out to be two major drivers of world output growth. Yet, there have been concerns relating to tightening food supplies. Agricultural biotechnology (also known as genetic-engineering technology) is driving output of crops such as soyabean, corn and cotton up, especially in the US and other countries. Biotechnology offers promise as a means of improving food security and reducing pressures on the environment, provided the perceived environmental threats from biotechnology itself are addressed.

Genetically modified (GM) crop varieties could help to sustain farming in marginal areas and to restore degraded lands to production. Although considerable research to develop more GM crops is currently under way, all commercially-grown GM crops now are either non-food crops (cotton) or are heavily used in animal feeds (soya bean, corn/maize).

Widespread use of the technology together with intensive or high input cultivation has resulted in a rapid increase in yields of major crops in major origins. It has also contributed to lowering production cost. For developing countries where conventional approaches have failed, the technology may deliver solutions.

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Yalta Declaration - Agricultural Biotechnology to Serve Social and Economic Development through Global Cooperation

- Black Sea Biotechnology Association (Yalta, Crimea, Ukraine), May 10, 2006

http://www.bsbanet.org/doc/kucha/yalta_declaration_2006.php?ln=en

Recognising that innovation has for centuries led to advances in human well-being and economic and social development;

Noting that innovation in ag-biotechnology in particular is a potentially significant driver of sustainable economic growth, improved food security, human health, environmental safety, and social well-being, and will also be a crucial element in any future bio-based economy;

Acknowledging that the successful development and safe use of ag-biotechnology in the greater Black Sea Region, to be successful, requires scientific and technological cooperation, particularly among and between public and private sectors at the national, regional, and global levels;

Observing that the international exchange of knowledge, information, and tech-nology contributes decisively to the advancement of research and innovation;

Considering that over a decade of responsible use of ag-biotechnology already demonstrated positive impact by providing millions of farmers and consumers in countries where bio-technology has been adopted with a better quality of life, higher incomes, and a safer environment;

In view of the fact that emerging ag-biotechnology applications offer excellent prospects with potentially far reaching benefits;

Therefore,

We express our strong support for the use of ag-biotechnology as an integral component in our countries` strategies to continue to provide safe, healthy, and nutritious foods, and practices that lead to a more sustainable and economically viable agriculture and socio-economic bene-fits.

We call for increased public and private investments in ag-biotechnology re-search, capacity building, and plant breeding to enhance our participation in the global innovation sys-tems.

We urge policy makers to devise, adopt, and apply sound scientific principles leading to the formulation of the sensible and rational regulation of ag-biotechnology, which will accel-erate innovation and the realisation of biotechnology`s promise.

We agree to make every effort to strengthen complementary national, regional, and inter-national cooperation by sharing knowledge and scientific resources, and by encouraging tech-nology transfer and strong science-industry linkages that are required for the development of appropriate solutions to pressing agricultural and environmental problems.

We support the establishment of intellectual property systems that are conducive to the quality and productivity of science systems, to the development of home grown innovation, to the exchange of and trade in technologies and products, to the foster-ing of entrepreneurship, and to the building of a wide range of beneficial partnerships.

And above all, we pledge to share information and knowledge to encourage dialogue about the scientific, environmental, economic, and social issues related to ag-biotechnology so that society in general and policy makers in particular may make sound decisions for the benefit of present and future generations.

We, the undersigned, being scientists, policy makers, members of civil society, and other stakeholders from the public and private sectors:

To add your name to the petition, fill out the form below, and click on submit.

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Open season?

- Vivian Moses, Nature Biotechnology 25, 1213 (2007) doi:10.1038/nbt1107-1213a (reproduced with permission)

To the editor:

In the September issue, your editorial entitled "A tragic GM 'outing1'' comments that "those who embrace GM crops must do it openly, as democratic society demands. Otherwise, activists will exploit secrecy to foment public mistrust, portraying themselves as heroes exposing covert GM planting operations."

I waited for the other shoe to drop. Does not society in the shape of government and the police have a duty to protect and defend from attacks by vandals and other fanatics those going about their legitimate business - as Claude Lagorse was doing? Would those vandals not have attacked the farm if details had been widely published? Were those secret vandals after M. Lagorse's secrecy or his crops?

You went on: "Ultimately, transparency and openness will make the continued destruction of property and intimidation of farmers difficult to justify." In your view, does that mean that such destruction and intimidation is presently justified? Would you be happy if those intimidators ransacked the premises of Nature Biotechnology for publishing what they saw as 'pro-GM material'? Should you therefore not be more open, inviting those very intimidators, qualified or not, to be part of your editorial process?

After all, they attack GM crops with little or no knowledge of agriculture - just as little as they doubtless have of biotech in general. Reference

1. Anonymous. Nat. Biotechnol. 25, 950 (2007).

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Response to Open season?

Nature Biotechnology 25, 1213 (2007) doi:10.1038/nbt1107-1213b

Nature Biotechnology responds

Nature Biotechnology unequivocally condemns the illegal actions of those who engage in intimidation and who vandalize legitimate cultivations of transgenic crops on private property. Those who are involved in such criminal acts should be prosecuted under the judicial system.

Our editorial sought to address the problem that round-the-clock police protection and surveillance of transgenic crop plantings is impractical, given the resources and time involved. Given the difficulties faced by police and the rather mixed track record of the judicial system in handing down stiff sentences to those found guilty of such offenses, how then should open democratic societies, such as France, respond to a small but significant minority who persist in this type of criminal activity?

Our answer is that any tacit public support that exists for such individuals should be marginalized to the extent that the actions of such people are no longer tolerated. Make no mistake, this is a battle for the hearts and minds of the public, and biotech must clearly be on the side of the angels. In this regard, openness and transparency are key. Making the locations of trials of transgenic crops secret or even opaque merely plays into the hands of activists by making it appear that the government and the growers have something to hide.

Unfortunately, recent statements from the French environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, have suggested that his government may acquiesce to pressure for a moratorium of GM crops from Josť Bove and his acolytes. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, a freeze is reportedly planned on all transgenic crop trials1. In September, French representatives to the European Council of Ministers also abstained from voting on the import approval of three transgenic maize lines; the veto could hinder current negotiations on the extension of approval for MON810 corn - currently the only transgenic crop approved for cultivation in France.

As Nature Biotechnology went to press, a public consultation process about transgenic crops was underway in 15 French cities and on the internet. In addition, a working group on genetically modified organisms has been set up to discuss new legislation oriented towards transparency and the freedom of choice for farmers and for consumers and potentially the establishment of an independent national advisory body. Reference

1. Jakubyszyn, C. & Kempf, H. Le Monde 20 September (2007)

http://www.lemonde.fr/web/article/0,1-0@2-3244,36-957270@51-951150,0.htm

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Worldwide cultural differences in socio-ethical views in relation to biotechnology

- Henk van den Belt & Jozef Keulartz, Netherlands Commission on Genetic Modification (COGEM), April 2007

http://www.cogem.net/ContentFiles/CGM2007-05%20Worldwide%20Cultural%20Differences.pdf

[excerpt; .pdf = 115pp.]

Framing and monster creation

Framing is a well-known theme in many disciplinary approaches. Jasanoff's colleague Herbert Gottweis also adopts a 'framing' perspective in his comparative study of stem cell politics in the USA and Germany:

"Phenomena such as human embryonic stem cells are not simply 'objective data' for regulatory decision making. Rather, for human embryonic stem cells to become relevant in the policy process, they need to be transformed from something that is 'out there' into something that is socially and politically signified." (Gottweis, 2002, 446).

Jasanoff gives the example of the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal, and the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York as events that first had to be 'framed' in a certain way before they could function as a trigger for collective action:

"[S]o Dolly's birth announcement became a challenge for 'bioethics', and the September 11, 2001, attacks were cast as grounds for a 'war on terror'" (Jasanoff, 2005a, 24).

In Jasanoff's view, frames are not free-floating; they are culturally conditioned and intersubjectively held and embed themselves in social behaviour and material culture. They thus strongly influence what people perceive as 'real' in the world around them. Frames are also discernable in the regulation of science and technology. They can be seen as "a kind of story-telling by communities situated in particular times and places who are attempting to deal with unsettling and disruptive changes in their environments" (Jasanoff, 2005a, 23).13

Biotechnology (taken in a broad sense) can be seen as culturally 'unsettling' or 'disruptive'. It is characteristic of this 'technoscience' that it continually places into the world new entities which from a cultural point of view may be described as 'monsters', that is to say, hybrids of nature and culture that have not yet found a recognized place within existing frames of reference and systems of classification.14 It is precisely because of its "zeal for hybridity", according to Jasanoff, that biotechnology inevitably requires "ontological ordering" (Jasanoff, 2005b, 151). Categories and classifications that are called into question by biotechnology "include the fundamental divisions between nature and culture, moral and immoral, safe and risky, god-given and human-made" (Jasanoff, 2005a, 26).

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Greens push the yellow peril button, leaving farmers in the red

- Michael Duffy, The Sydney Morning Herald, Nov. 10, 2007

http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/greens-push-the-yellow-peril-button-leaving-farmers-in-the-red/2007/11/09/1194329506200.html

This week academics at the University of Melbourne released news of the latest victory in the environmental movement's war on Australia. The ban on growing genetically modified canola is costing our struggling farmers a whopping $157 million a year.

No green group has yet claimed credit for this triumph of economic terrorism, but no doubt one will soon. On its website, Greenpeace lists among its main achievements the decision by five states to impose moratoriums on the commercial release of the first proposed GM crop. The greens applied pressure on the states after both Australia's independent regulators, Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, approved the general release of two types of GM canola in 2003.

This is a hot issue because most states are reviewing the bans, due to expire next year. It matters more generally because canola was the first big battleground in the public debate here over the acceptability of genetically modified foods.

The errors and misconceptions the green activists were able to lodge in our minds then have influenced our attitudes to this new frontier of science ever since. Basically, Australians remain pessimistic while other countries have moved on and are reaping the benefits, and not just from canola. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics has estimated that we stand to lose $5.8 billion in a decade if we don't access all new GM crop varieties.

(Mind you, we are not always consistent. Most of the cotton grown in Australia is genetically modified. We hear no complaints from the greens about this. A cynic might say this is because if it wasn't modified it would require a lot more water and pesticides to grow. But the same applies to GM canola.)

Professor Rick Roush and Dr Robert Norton from the Faculty of Land and Food Resources at the University of Melbourne have looked at more than 20 recent reports on GM canola in Australia. They have compared this with the situation in other countries that have not banned GM canola, particularly Canada. A comparison of the experiences of Australia and Canada enables us to review the claims against GM canola made by the greens.

Let's start with the economics. The greens have sometimes argued that Australia, far from benefitting, would lose financially by growing GM canola, because foreign markets would gradually shut out not just GM canola but all canola from countries that grew the GM strains.

In fact, just the opposite has happened internationally. More markets have now opened up to GM canola. The biggest is the European Union, which has approved the importation of GM canola grain and oil. As a result of this market expansion, Canada's canola production has increased by 40 per cent since 1996. It has been able to do this in part because GM strains are more productive. Canada's average yields have increased by 40 per cent over the past decade. In Australia, they've gone into reverse, declining by 10 per cent. Because of this and the drought, last year Australia actually imported a large quantity of Canadian GM canola.

This failure in the greens' economic predictions should not surprise us. In the past decade, as green spokesmen took to cutting their hair and wearing suits, they also began to argue their case on financial as well as environmental grounds. It was part of the appeal for respectability. But where it has been possible to test green economics, it has often been found wanting.

Perhaps the most persistent example of this has been in relation to the timber industry. Whenever Bob Carr created a new national park and destroyed yet another small town's economic basis, there was a claim from some city-based green group that the local folk would gain far more from "green tourism" than they lost from the closure of their timber mill. This proved to be fantasy.

Of course, it's not just a question of economics. Over the years green activists have presented a wide range of arguments against GM canola. But their basic position is one of faith: they are fundamentalists. On its website Greenpeace announces it is "opposed to the patenting of life". It is not clear whether this opposition is based on disapproval of capitalism or science or both, but as a general statement it leaves little if any room for debate.

A more positive view of genetic modification is that it's the latest stage in several thousand years' efforts by humans to improve crops. One of the great achievements of the past half-century has been the boom in agricultural productivity. Those who've benefited most have been the world's poor. If further improvements mean "patenting life", so what?

A perverse result of the successful green opposition to GM canola is the harm it has done to the environment. As Roush and Norton explain in their paper, growing the current types of (non-GM) canola requires large amounts of herbicides that stay active in the soil for considerable periods and can be aquatic pollutants. In contrast, GM canola would do far less damage.

The Canadian experience shows that GM canola is good for the economy, and good for the environment. Indeed, Canada is planning a 70 per cent expansion of its crop by 2015.

Buckling to green propaganda in 2003 was a major failure of leadership by Australia's premiers. Let's hope they reverse that decision next year.

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Researchers Look To Lettuce For Diabetes Cure

- kmbctv, YouTube, Nov. 7, 2007

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDs7nW_ZAYs

"This would be not only a cure, but an inexpensive cure," diabetes researcher Dr. Henry Daniell told KMBC's Kelly Eckerman.

Could it be that simple? Could a cure for diabetes exist in genetically modified lettuce? Here's how it works: A lettuce leaf is placed in a machine and then injected with a human gene for insulin. The leaf is essentially producing human insulin, Eckerman reported.

It has been tested on mice. Daniell said he was shocked by the results. By the end of the study, the diabetic mice had normal blood and urine.

"Once this autoimmune problem was cured, the beta cells came back to life and produced normal levels of insulin," Daniell said.

The lettuce has been tested on mice only, which has drawn criticism.

"We've been learning more and more to our disappointment that the type of diabetes that mice get, that we often study, does not translate well into humans in many instances. So I think one has to hold back their enthusiasm and let it play out in the scientific community," said Dr. David Robbins, an endocrinologist at the University of Kansas Hospital.

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The Biosafety Regulation Sourcebook

- AGBIOS (No Date)

http://www.agbios.com/main.php

The Biosafety Regulation Sourcebook, 2006 contains a Model Biosafety Act and helpful information on development and implementation of biosafety regulations compliant with both the Cartagena Protocol and WTO agreements. The sourcebook is designed to assist developing countries that may need to introduce new administrative and legal frameworks for environmental safety with respect to the import, export and use of living modified organisms within their territories. It is based on provisions found in existing and well-functioning biosafety regulatory schemes around the world that have been amended and shaped in accordance with actual experience in the field.

The Model Act was first published in 2002 following independant peer review. This present version has been updated to ensure consistency with disciplines imposed by the World Trade Organization and its agreements.

The Sourcebook is available for download in English, French and Spanish as a single file.

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AgBioForum

Volume 10 // Number 2 // 2007 (web posted Oct. 25, 2007)

http://www.agbioforum.org/index.htm

Current Contribution of Four Biotechnologies to New Zealand's Primary Sector
- W.H. Kaye-Blake, C.M. Saunders, & P. Dalziel

The Economic Impacts of Introducing Bt Technology in Smallholder Cotton Production Systems of West Africa: A Case Study from Mali
- J. Vitale, T. Boyer, R. Uaiene, & J.H. Sanders

Consumer Attitudes and Policy Directions for GM Labeling and Pollen Drift Regulation: Evidence from the 2006 Vermonter Poll
- V. Esposito & J. Kolodinsky

Economic Impacts of Not Extending Biofuel Subsidies
- J. Kruse, P. Westhoff, S. Meyer, & W. Thompson

Market and Welfare Effects of GMO Introduction in Small Open Economies
- A. Plastina & K. Giannakas

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CropBiotech Update

- International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), No. 9, 2007

http://www.isaaa.org/kc/default.asp

Global
162 Million People Still Live Under US 50 Cents
Priorities for Sweet Potato Research in Developing Countries
Building Capacity in the Life Sciences

Africa
Egypt Harvests Bt Maize Field Trials
Jordan Open to Biotech Initiatives
Kenya Government Committed to Biosafety Bill 2007

Americas
Researchers Identify Cause of Watermelon Vine Decline
Program to Improve Quality Compliance of GE Products
UC to Research on Improved Cowpeas for Africa

Asia and the Pacific
DRR and ISAAA Hold Seminar on Outlook of Biotech/GM Crops
Filipina Bt Maize Farmer Gets International Award
A Low-Cost Method Increases Farm Yield in Kazakhstan
Extra income for Aussie Farmers from GM canola
Test-Tube Bananas Give New Hope to Philippine Farmers
Dupont Supports Indonesia's Rice and Corn Industry

Europe
Genes Identified to Protect Brassicas from TuMV
New Findings May Help Fight Blackleg and Softrot Potato Disease
Chlorophyll Breakdown Products are Active Antioxidants
Cellectis Launches Program with Bayer CropScience

Research
RNAi to Control Coleopteran Pests
Cotton Bollworm With Impaired Tolerance to Gossypol
Engineering Modified Bt Toxins to Counter Insect Resistance

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