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November 20, 2007


GM sweetcorn preferred (again); Row erupts in Italy; Yogic flier in Oz


* Row erupts in Italy over GM study
* Engineered corn easy to swallow
* Chance's yogic flying farce
* Africa Warms Up to Biotech
* A Timely Harvest
* New era of acceptance for GM
* India's new biotech strategy
* Biodiesel venture uses new GM crop
* Non-GM farmers seek higher premiums
* ArborGen Acquires Tree Operations
* Rice genes to combat malnutrition
* Mushrooms may provide rapid vaccine
* Phytoremediation in Chloroplast GM Plants
* All-Natural Carcinogens in Holiday Menu
* Book: Plant Breeding and Biotechnology
* Video: Global Experts Comment on GM Food Crops
* Workshop: Czech Republic and AgBiotech Research


Row erupts in Italy over GM study results

- Laura Crowley, Food Navigator, Nov. 16, 2007


Accusations have flown in Italy this week over the government's alleged suppression of field trial results suggesting the benefits of two Monsanto Bt maize varieties.

Field trials were conducted on land owned by the University of Milan to determine the benefits of GM crops and the possible dangers they pose to consumers.

The outcome showed that, as well as resisting the corn borer pest without the use of pesticides, the P67 and Elgina maize varieties helped reduce the content fumonisin toxins, say the scientists.

But the results of the trials were never formally published, spurring scientists to accuse the government of suppressing the information because of its anti-GMO stance.

Meanwhile, the state-run National Institute for Research of Food and Nutrition (INRAN) today issued a statement saying it had not actually received the results as claimed.

INRAN added that it has actually conducted its own analysis, which goes further than the original results, and that it now deems suitable for publication.

Fury over fumonisins

Fumonisins are toxins produced by fungi that can infect a growing maize plant. There is evidence to suggest they increase the risk of spina bifida in humans, and can cause other illnesses in horses and pigs.

Roberto Defez, group leader in microbial biotechnology at the Institute of Genetics and Biophyscis, explained that Italy has serious problems with fumonisins. "The problem is officially known," he said. "Over forty per cent of the maize produced contains more than the maximum levels of fumonisin."

The information on the study only came to light when Tommaso Maggiore, the agronomist who conducted the trial, realised the results would not be published and approached the scientific community through Defez, and scientists at the University of Milan, to get the information into the public domain.

Defez told FoodNavigator.com that, as it stands, the results from the study are not a major contribution to scientific research. He said: "What we are asking for is that the ban be lifted so the trial can be repeated by the scientific community, to compare and evaluate to see whether this is a usual result, and can therefore benefit Italian agriculture."

Legal issues in Italy

Defez explained this was the first trial on genetic modification in Italy for seven years as such studies are illegal in Italy.

Funded by the ministry of agriculture under an investment of [Euros]6.2m, it did not come under the ban as the maize is allowed for consumption in Europe, therefore not described as experimental, and it was not planned for commercial cultivation.

When the results were allegedly handed to the INRAN early last year, they were never formally published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

In addition to denying it had received any results, INRAN said it had not asked Maggiore to perform the fumonisin analysis.

Study results

The fumonisin-producing fungi infect a maize plant by entering through a wound, which can be inflicted by the European corn borer.

At the trials, no corn borer larvae were found on the Bt varieties, while an average of 29 of the pest were found on each stalk of the conventional varieties.

In INRAN's statement today, it said that its analysis actually found 81 per cent higher levels of the fumonisin in the maize that was not genetically engineered.

According to Maggiore's results, using the GM maize also increased the volume of grain produced, yielding between 14.1 and 15.9 tonnes per hectare compared to between 11 and 11.2 tonnes of grain per hectare.

This relates to a yield increase of between 28 and 43 per cent, translating into a difference in profit of between [Euros]300m and [Euros]1bn.

Opposition to government policies

The issue has now been documented in the Italian media, and opposition parties have spoken out against the government's anti-GM stance.

Radical MP Marco Cappato accused the government of "prohibitionism and violation of the freedom of research", while Tortoli from Forza Italia called for an increase in research. Belloti, from the Alleanza Nazionale, said: "The demonisation of GMOs is the result of an ecological ideology that smells of hypocrisy."

Issues surrounding GMOs

Despite the beneficial effects on plant disease of GM maize found in this single study, concerns have been raised over its health risks to humans.

In March, it was revealed that the Monsanto maize MON863, authorised for human consumption since 2006, showed signs of liver and kidney toxicity in a rat study performed by French researchers. However, after reviewing the data, the European Food Safety Authority rejected the concerns in June this year.

Genetic engineering goes against the increasing consumer trend for natural and organic products as fears have arisen over a lack of knowledge of its long-term effects.

Environmental campaigners have also highlighted the impact on non-target species and there have been worries over the risk of contaminating non-GM crops.


Engineered corn proves easy to swallow

- David Sneed, SanLuisObispo.com, Nov. 15, 2007


In what may be a first in the nation, the Avila Valley Barn now clearly labels corn it sells as genetically engineered and offers customers a choice of traditional corn.

Owner John DeVincenzo grows corn that is genetically modified to contain an enzyme that is toxic to insects but not people. The produce is labeled "Our own GE corn."

"People have the right to know what they are eating," DeVincenzo said.

Environmentalists and local anti-GE food activists had been pressing DeVincenzo to label the GE corn since he first began growing it five years ago. In September, he agreed.

"We still don't think enough testing has been done on GE crops, but failing that, GE products should be labeled," said Andrew Christie, director of the local chapter of the

Sierra Club. "We heartily endorse the precedent Dr. DeVincenzo is setting." DeVincenzo is an orthodontist in San Luis Obispo.

Renata Brillinger of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture said she has not heard about this kind of labeling happening anywhere else.

"There are some voluntary labels for GE-free foods," she said. "We have distributed several hundred posters for farmers to use at their market stalls, but I haven't seen anything like this."

The corn is grown on farmland near the Avila Valley Barn on Avila Beach Drive. It is the only genetically engineered crop DeVincenzo grows. This year, he grew about 12 acres each of genetically engineered corn and regular corn.

DeVincenzo said he started growing GE corn for practical reasons: It is cheaper to produce because it does not have to be sprayed to control corn earworms.

"It was strictly economics," he said. By planting the modified corn, DeVincenzo did not have to use pesticides to control bugs and worms or pay for a worker to apply such chemicals. And there was some saving on fuel by not running a tractor.

Labeling the corn is also a good tool for measuring consumer preferences. The store offers the GE and traditional corn at the same price.

When DeVincenzo started the labeling, he thought the traditional corn would outsell the GE corn by a two-to-one margin. He was surprised to see that the opposite was true.

While some customers complained that GE corn was offered at all, DeVincenzo said the typical customer says they prefer the modified type because it is not shucked and looks fresher. Traditional corn has to be partially or completely shucked to eliminate ears that are infested with worms.

As a result, DeVincenzo's farm manager is recommending that half as much regular corn be planted next year.

In 2004, voters in the county turned down a ballot measure that would have banned growing any GE crops in the county. Such crops remain a controversial issue.

The journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences recently published an Indiana University study that found that GE corn pollen and other plant parts are entering streams near cornfields and may be killing aquatic insects called caddisflies.

DeVincenzo admits that the use of GE crops raises legitimate concerns, but he believes the environmental benefits of GE crops outweigh the drawbacks.

For example, traditional corn requires the spraying of insecticides every four days that can drift in the wind, and the tractor applying the insecticide emits greenhouse gases.

Even with spraying, some ears of corn are going to become infested with worms, so more land has to be planted with traditional corn to yield the same crop as field planted with GE corn.

"One has to measure the environmental impact of pesticides on our sensitive planet," DeVincenzo said. "The benefits and liabilities must be weighed in everything we do."


Guest ed. note: Anti-biotech activists recently claimed that earlier findings of consumer preference for 'non-wormy' sweetcorn was a 'fraud.' Faced with accusations of libel, the activists retracted their claims. They may shortly claim that this news piece is fraudulent--who knows? Even so, consumers seem to have a mysteriously strong preference for non-wormy corn with fewer chemical sprays. This invites a question: Can only Green political lobbyists be 'green'?. See http://gmoireland.blogspot.com/ for more information.


Kim Chance's yogic flying farce in WA

- David Tribe a.k.a. GMOPundit, Nov. 16, 2007


According to Bush Telegraph (Peter Lee) in Farm Weekly, WA 15/11/07, the debate about GM has now descended to farce, with Ag-Minister Mr Kim Chance calling on Jeffrey Smith, anti-GM author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette for scientific advice.

Peter Lee mentions Jeffrey Smith's main claim to fame is his ability to levitate using his transcendental meditation skills. Peter also mentions that Jeffrey believes it (transcendental meditation, not GM) can reduce crime and increase individual IQs too.

Hopefully these boosts to IQ will bring some clarity to the GM front, as there's sure lots of dumb rumours flying around about "GM free premiums". Peter's article exposes these fictitious premiums as a real sham.

Lets hope also that Mr Chance is affected positively by the yogic flying too, and comes to his senses about GM.

Key quote from Peter Lee:

"Mr Chance was probably uncomfortable when Prof Roush and Dr Norton revealed 99.6 pc of WA's canola exports go to countries where there is no discrimination against GM varieties and that exports of modified grains and oils are now accepted into the European Union."

Maybe that's why Chance blackballed Prof Roush from his recent GM debate. Such facts would have need some yogic flying to calm the debate, and an outbreak of yogic flying would have surely ruined the spin being put out by the "Minister for opposing GM".


Post Script

The Daily Illini newspaper

October 29, 1996

That's transcendental: Natural Law Party candidate holds "unusual" press conference at the Illini Union

News Story by Kris Kudenholdt, 10/28/96

It was an unusual campaign appearance, with a press conference by a U.S. Senate candidate combined with a demonstration of transcendental meditation. But that was the point.

James Davis spoke Wednesday afternoon at the Illini Union about the Natural Law Party, outlining the general tenets of the party and his campaign.

Davis said the fact two major candidates were debating handgun control underlined what he feels is the problem in American politics.

"Ultimately, it's not the gun that's the problem, and it's not just the hand that holds the gun," Davis said. "It's the mind, and actually, the rage and anger that drive the mind that drives the hand that holds the gun."

Davis highlighted his proposals to reduce crime, one being reducing the anger and sponsoring societal coherence through "yogic flyers."

After his introduction and an explanation by a campaign aide about the idea of yogic flying, Davis sat down and watched three yogic flyers on four white mats laid out in front of a table bearing a multicolored banner that read: "Natural Law Party: Problem Free Government."

The yogic flyers, after sitting motionless for a few minutes began to hop around the mats with their legs crossed.

Jeffrey Smith, a Davis aide and one of the three flyers, explained the idea and effects of yogic flying, which relies on practicing transcendental meditation, to the small crowd.

Smith presented charts with evidence of a correlation between the presence of yogic flyers and an increase in the quality of life and a decrease in crime. Smith cited limited yogic flying programs in Washington D.C. and near the Middle East that resulted in less crime and more harmony.

"(This is why) Jim Davis as the Senate candidate for the Natural Law Party believes that any city that has a group of say 7,000 yogic flyers practicing together will not only generate great coherence and cleansing effect for the nation and the entire world, but will enjoy a dramatic reduction in crime rate within the city," Smith said.

"The simplest explanation of this technology is based on the concept of collective consciousness. We've all had the experience of walking into a home and feeling very good in the home instantly. We've had the other experience of walking into a home and feeling very uncomfortable, maybe tense, maybe angry. ...

"What we're experiencing is the collective consciousness. On the level of the home, it's the collective consciousness of the family.

"So at the simplest level, what this yogic flying technique does is it reduces the stress in collective consciousness, increases the purity and harmony in that collective consciousness, and everyone within that collective consciousness is influenced."

Noting that the idea of radio and a heliocentric model of the solar system had once been scoffed at, Smith said more than 500 studies have shown transcendental meditation has its benefits including more creativity, intelligence and energy, better health and higher IQ over the long term.

On a wider scale, Smith said the minds of yogic flyers act like radio transmitters that radiate a positive influence, resonating through the surrounding the mental environment. Smith estimated that a corps of about 7,000 yogic flyers could help relieve stress and the problems associated with it around the world.

That a U.S. Senate candidate would affiliate himself with such an out-of-the-mainstream concept seems to run contrary to conventional political wisdom.


Continent Warms Up to Biotechnology

- Ismail Serageldin And Calestous Juma, Business Daily (Nairobi) via AllAfrica.com, Nov. 14, 2007


Much of the debate about biotechnology in Africa assumes that African countries are only being asked to accept products developed elsewhere. To the contrary, Freedom to Innovate: Biotechnology in Africa's Development shows that extensive biotechnology research is under way in Africa.

Africa's governments, its industry and its research institutions are well aware of the potential that agricultural biotechnology holds if applied in other ways and to indigenous crops. A study of 13 public institutions in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Egypt and South Africa showed that biotechnology applications have been performed on 21 crops.

The genes incorporated into the crops include those that confer insect, fungal, viral and bacterial resistance, protein quality improvements, herbicide tolerance, and salt and drought resistance.

In South Africa, for example, about 20 to 30 per cent of yellow maize and 80 per cent of cotton are now genetically modified varieties.

Estimates for 2004 production showed that about 27 per cent of total yellow maize crop (for animal feed) was genetically-modified (GM).

Less than eight per cent of the white maize grown (for human consumption) is GM.

An insect-resistant potato was developed in South Africa in 2001. The goal was to help small farmers to grow this on a commercial scale. The potatoes performed well in field trials but commercialisation has been delayed.

The first GM biotechnology product to be developed in Kenya was a virus-and weevil-resistant sweet potato. This project began in 1991. The sweet potato trials met some setbacks because it is believed that the construct for the virus resistance was not well tested and it did not perform well under field trials.

In addition, KARI in partnership with the international maize laboratory CYMMIT in Mexico has been developing insect resistant transgenic maize. The maize was tested in field trials in May 2005.

Egypt has worked on more varieties of crops than any other country in Africa. The Genetic Engineering Services Unit (GESU) of the Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI) in Egypt has been actively involved in micropropagation of Satavia rebaudiana and mulberry, as well as the production of diagnostic kits for detecting viruses in banana, potato, tomato and beans.

Plant biotechnology research at AGERI also includes transferring genes that confer virus resistance, bacterial resistance, insect resistance, stress tolerance and fungal resistance on such crops as potato, cotton, maize, faba beans, cucurbits, wheat, banana and date palm.

Insect resistant potato is another of the major crops that have been worked on in Egypt by AGERI in partnership with Michigan State University in the USA. Several varieties of potato were transformed for potato tuber moth resistance including a widely grown Dutch variety in Egypt, Spunta. Spunta.

The potato has not been commercialised because of trade concerns in the European Union over GM crops.

The Uganda National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) opened a new research laboratory in 2003 to conduct work on the genetic modification of banana. The goal was to insert genes that will confer resistance to Black Sigatoka and banana weevils.

Field trials on Bt cotton have been carried out in several countries including Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Tanzania and Burkina Faso have recently started field trials, while Mali was slated to start field trials in 2005. However, a cotton trial in Zambia has had to be halted because biosafety regulations were not ready at the time.

Biotechnology is being employed to improve the nutritional content of sorghum thanks to the work of a consortium of institutions from Africa, Japan and the US.

Funded by the Gates Foundation and led by Kenya-based Africa Harvest, the consortium's members include the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa.

Livestock is critical to agriculture and to food production in Africa, as it is elsewhere.

Yet, according to some estimates, Africa's livestock community is expected to become the most important agricultural sector in terms of physical products derived from agriculture, such as meat products and leather.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is at the forefront of using biotechnology to develop new and improved animal vaccines as well as developing diagnostic tools to combat livestock diseases. These include in particular the high-priority 'orphan' diseases of Africa and South Asia.


A Timely Harvest

'The public should be consulted on contentious research and development early enough for their opinions to influence the course of science and policy-making.'

- Pierre-Benoit Joly & Arie Rip, Nature (450, 174), Nov. 8, 2007


Public engagement in emerging science and technology is thriving, particularly in the United Kingdom. Recent initiatives such as 'Nanodialogues', organized by the think-tank Demos, suggest that citizen juries, dialogue exercises and interactive public understanding projects can be fruitful for scientists and members of the public. Over two years, the Nanodialogues series allowed members of the public to join scientists in discussions on regulation, research funding, development and corporate innovation of nanotechnologies. Such enterprises may foster mutual understanding, but they can struggle to make a difference to research or to policy-making.

Governments and research institutions generally fail to respond to the outcomes of public engagement exercises, perhaps because the outcomes are often too late and too vague on concrete strategies to move forward. We've learnt that it is better to engage the public 'midstream', at a point in the research process when it is possible to incorporate their opinions into research orientation and policy-making.

The French National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA) used such an approach to focus on research into and field trials of genetically modified vines. In 2001, INRA had to decide whether to run field trials of a genetically modified vine that is potentially resistant to a disease-causing virus. INRA's research director for plant sciences, Guy Riba, voiced the opinion of most researchers: "Surely scientists have a responsibility to carry out these experiments with a view to the future, even in the face of current public opposition?"

INRA met strong opposition to the trials because of the cultural significance of wine in France. A group of wine producers, including some prestigious chteaux, had signed a petition in June 2000 calling for a moratorium on the use of genetic modification techniques in wine production, and joined forces to create the non-governmental organization Terre et Vin du Monde (Land and Wine of the World).

In response, INRA asked a group of social scientists who specialize in science and technology studies to organize a public consultation, in which we took leading roles. Our goal was to produce a public report to be taken into account in decision-making at INRA.

Our working group comprised 14 people, including members of the public, wine growers and researchers. It had seven days of intensive discussions over a six-month period in 2002. The set of recommendations it produced was made freely available on the web. The INRA directorate prepared a public response explaining the decisions it intended to make and how these would accommodate the group's recommendations.

One outcome of the discussions was the creation of a local steering committee to follow up and give feedback on the field experiments taking place in Colmar, a town in the Alsace region of France. This committee has since grown into a forum for debate on various research options to fight vine viruses.

The experiment was highly productive. It yielded some unexpected recommendations that could be worked into the decision-making process. Some of the participants opposed the field trial at all costs, but most supported it under strict conditions, including: that INRA guaranteed that the trials would be used only for research, not for commercial purposes; that a local committee would be in charge of monitoring the experiment; and that INRA would commit to exploring alternative ways to fight viruses. Appropriately, it was not a smooth process, either during deliberation within the group, or in implementing the agreement.

Researchers at INRA criticized the public consultation process for its power to reduce the freedom of research. Non-governmental organizations claimed that INRA was manipulating public opinion through the exercise. These tensions are an unavoidable part of the process.

Three important lessons emerged from the exercise. First, midstream engagement is not a recipe for wide social agreement and acceptance. Rather, it improves the robustness of decisions by taking into account the diversity of world views and interests. Second, it stimulates institutional learning. Third, the process can produce research and development options not previously considered. This is of particular value if directors of public research are truly committed to generating beneficial sociotechnical innovation.

Public consultations in science and technology should be undertaken at a point early enough in the development process when it is still feasible to change course. The nanotechnology world often refers to 'the lessons to be learned from genetic modification' - the main one is timely, considered public engagement.


New era of acceptance for GM technology

- Farmers Weekly Interactive, Nov. 14, 2007


GM technology is beginning to be accepted and embraced, according to speakers at SAC's Outlook conference this week.

Speaking at the pre-conference dinner Lord Haskins, former chairman of Northern Foods, predicted the technology could form part of responsible scientific development over the next five years.

"Ludite views of science are on their way out and the GM argument is beginning to be won by default.

Time for a GM debate

"Concern about human health implications has disappeared and with concern about food supplies people are now saying 'maybe there is something in it'," he said.

NFU Scotland president, Jim McLaren, referred to headlines now predicting a rise in feed prices of 600% by 2010 if GM technology is not embraced.

He said the time could be right for a debate on the responsible use of GM technology.

Former Ulster Farmers Union president, John Gilliland, emphasised the need for the agricultural industry to 'take the public with it' in the GM decision-making process.

"If we adopt GM technology it has to be done very carefully with full traceability and labelling," he said.

"Railroading" it through without taking consumers along could be very dangerous for the industry, he added.


India releases new biotechnology strategy

- T. V. Padma, SciDev.net, Nov. 14, 2007


India has launched a national biotechnology development strategy focusing on biotechnology's potential to provide long-term benefits for agriculture, health and the environment.

The strategy, issued by science minister Kapil Sibal this week (13 November), includes a target for the biotechnology industry to generate US$7 billion by 2012, and the revamping of biotechnology education programmes to create global centres of educational and research excellence.

To achieve this target, Sibal said the country will boost funds for biotechnology by five-fold over the next five years, from 14,500 million Indian rupees (US$362 million) during 2002-2007 to 65,000 million Indian rupees (US$1.6 billion) by 2012.

He said at the press briefing for the strategy that the funds will be used to "beef up" India's biotechnology infrastructure.

"We need a new vision. The next big challenges are in health, agriculture and environment, which the nation must invest in seriously," Sibal told reporters.

In a major new initiative, the strategy will reserve up to 30 per cent of Department of Biotechnology's (DBT's) budget for public-private partnerships and the launch of a biotechnology industry partnership programme for advanced technologies.

The strategy aims to improve biotechnology education throughout the country by identifying highly-reputed colleges in around 20 smaller universities and supporting them through teacher training programmes.

Existing university science departments will be upgraded, and departments working on different disciplines will be streamlined to create globally competitive centres of education and research.

A UNESCO regional centre for science, education and innovation in biotechnology will be set up at Faridabad, near Delhi in northern India. The centre will provide global standard, industry-oriented training for physicians, biologists and engineers. India is also introducing a cost-sharing scheme that allows industry to retain intellectual property. The DBT has drafted two bills to be taken to the Indian Parliament in 2008, one of which relates to protection, utilisation and regulation of intellectual property.


Biodiesel venture combines refining, genetic engineering

- Michael Kanellos, News.com, Nov. 19, 2007


A genetics company and a biodiesel refiner have formed a joint venture to see if they can cut the cost of biodiesel.

Sustainable Oil is a joint venture between Green Earth Fuels, an established biodiesel manufacturer from Texas, and Targeted Growth, which specializes in creating genetically enhanced plants. Targeted Growth has created a version of camelina, a distant relative of canola, with seeds that produce about 20 percent more oil than seeds from conventional plants, according to CEO Tom Todaro. The more oil that comes out of the seeds, the more fuel that can be produced. Additionally, camelina grows on marginal land, requires little water, and isn't eaten by humans.

Sustainable Oil, planned to be formally announced Tuesday, will continue the genetic research already performed by Targeted and sign contracts with farmers to grow its "Elite Camelina" plants. These farmers, in turn, will sell their output to Green Earth. Green Earth has a 90 million-gallon-a-year plant in Houston and has plans to build similar plants in the Northeastern U.S. and California.

"We want to be vertically integrated," said Green Earth CEO Greg Bafalis. Big oil companies do the same thing by combining refinery operations with exploration in the same company, he added.

By controlling the quality and supplies of its feedstocks, Sustainable Oil, ideally, will have a more predictable and lower cost of operation. Rising prices of soybean and other agricultural oils have been cutting into the profits of biodiesel refiners. "We will be able to control the yields and stability of output," Bafalis said.

Some biodiesel feedstock oils sell for about 45 cents per pound right now, he said. But Sustainable Oil will be able to beat that through its partner farmers, Bafalis predicts.

The first trickle of oil from the genetically enhanced plants will come next year. By 2010, Sustainable Oil hopes to be able to get enough oil from its farmers to make 100 million gallons of biodiesel a year.

Most of it will be grown in Montana, which has the parched, arid land that the genetic plants love. Now on News.com Amazon unveils Kindle reader Photos: Dinosaur sightings: Lotus Symphony 3 Newsmaker: Dreaming of a green 'New Deal' Extra: Electronics recycling 'horrific'

This is an exciting opportunity for Montana; it represents a combining of two major thrusts of economic growth," said Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, in a prepared statement. "It is energy related and it is value-added agriculture. Having this sort of major commitment is great news." (Schweitzer plans to appear with the companies, along with Sen. Max Baucus, in a presentation on Tuesday.)

Biodiesel is one of the more popular green fuels on the market. It results in 78.45 percent less carbon dioxide than regular diesel when all the well-to-wheel fumes are calculated, according to the Department of Energy. It can also be put into any diesel car or truck with minimal, if any, modifications. By contrast, few cars can run on high concentrations of ethanol in the United States. Right now it costs more than regular diesel--biodiesel refiners get 50 cents to $1 a gallon, depending on the feedstock used to make it--but the price is expected to go down over time.

While biodiesel has several adherents, the same can't be said for genetic engineering. Many object to so-called Frankenfoods, although proponents point out that few, if any, health problems have ever been associated with genetically modified foods.

"One of my favorite stats is that more people are killed by falling Coke machines every year than genetically modified foods," Targeted CEO Tom Todaro told CNET News.com earlier this year. "Eighty percent of the corn and soy sold worldwide has biotech inside of it. You ate a transgene at breakfast this morning if you had cereal; I guarantee it."


Farmers seek higher soybean premiums

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 By

- Aya Takada, Bloomberg via The China Post, Nov. 20, 2007


TOKYO -- Soybean farmers in the U.S., the world's largest producer of the oilseed, will demand higher premiums for non-genetically modified beans next year and likely only supply the crops under contract, an exporters group said.

U.S. farmers are planting fewer acres of non-GMO soybeans that are more expensive to produce and lower-yielding than genetically modified varieties, Dan Duran, chief executive officer of the U.S. Soybean Export Council, said in an interview.

Increased premiums would raise costs for food suppliers in Japan, the largest export market for non-GMO soybeans, where companies including Shinozakiya Inc. use the oilseed in foods such as tofu. Modified crops are not used because of consumer safety concerns. Other Asian buyers, such as Taiwan and South Korea, also import non-GMO soybeans.

"There is no guarantee that there will be product available on the spot market," Duran said in an interview in Tokyo on Nov. 16. "Without contracts, no one can guarantee availability."

Soybeans have gained 59 percent this year as U.S. farmers planted the fewest acres in 12 years to sow more corn. Soybean futures for January delivery rose to US$10.88 a bushel, the highest since June 1988 on Nov. 16. The contract traded at US$10.86 a bushel at 2:58 p.m. Singapore time Monday on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Non-GMO soybeans for October delivery, the most active contract, on the Tokyo Grain Exchange, closed 1,000 yen, or 1.5 percent, higher at a record 66,000 yen (US$597) a metric ton Monday. The futures have gained 51 percent this year.

Genetically modified soybeans for October delivery ended 650 yen, or 1.1 percent, higher at 58,390 yen on the Tokyo exchange Monday. Most active futures have advanced 49 percent this year.

U.S. farmers are charging premiums of US$1.50 a bushel on average for non-GMO soybeans next year, up 25 percent from this year, said Nobuyuki Chino, president of Tokyo-based trading company Unipac Grain Ltd. The premiums are the price difference over modified beans.

"Premiums are rising as the number of non-GMO soybean growers is declining," Chino said by phone.

U.S. farmers planted 63.7 million acres to soybeans this year, down 16 percent from a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

U.S. farmers may increase total soybean plantings next year by 4 million to 8 million acres, while the percentage of acres sown to modified varieties may rise by 1 or 2 percentage points from 91 percent this year, Duran said.

"Higher premiums and forward contracting might bring more acres of food-grade soybeans back into production," he said. Premiums for non-GMO soybeans differ depending on varieties and agreements between farmers and buyers.

Japanese demand for food-use soybeans is expected to rise 0.8 percent to 1.05 million metric tons this year from last year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

"It is becoming difficult to secure a sufficient amount of non-GMO soybeans," Yutaka Murakami, chairman of the Japan Tofu Association, said at a news conference in Tokyo Nov. 14.

Japan imported a total of 4.04 million tons of soybeans last year for food, soybean oil and soybean meal, of which 3.23 million tons or 80 percent were from the U.S. Brazil was the second-largest soybean supplier to Japan, according to the Agriculture Ministry. Non-GMO beans are not required for crushing.

Japan imported about 500,000 tons of non-GMO food soybeans from the U.S. last year, Duran said. Other imports of non-GMO beans were mostly from Canada and China.


ArborGen Acquires Commercial Tree Operations

New assets transform ArborGen into a global full-service tree-improvement company

- ArborGen (press release), Nov. 15, 2007

Summerville, S.C. - ArborGen, a world leader in forest tree improvement technologies, today announced that it has completed the previously announced transactions to acquire the nursery and seed orchard businesses of its U.S. based partners International Paper and MeadWestvaco, and Rubicon Limited's Horizon2 Australasian business. The transaction is a significant step forward in ArborGen's strategy for future growth and now has positioned the company to provide a full range of superior products and services to global forest landowners.

"The combination of these businesses is very exciting," said Dr. Barbara Wells, ArborGen President and Chief Executive Officer, "as it brings together organizations that are recognized industry leaders and represent the very best expertise in breeding, genetics, seedling production, sales and distribution to uniquely create a world-class fully integrated, full-service tree improvement company."

"In combination with ArborGen's existing advanced product portfolio, we are now able to offer customers products and services targeted for their specific needs and end-use applications across a wide range of growing conditions," added Wells. "We believe that these products will enable the forestry industry to lift its productivity and produce more wood on less land, thus conserving native forests in all their diversity for future generations."

This single transaction has moved ArborGen from being a research-based business to now becoming a commercial entity. The new ArborGen includes nursery and seed operations, land holdings, tree improvement research and development capabilities, and full ownership of 50-plus years of premiere pine and hardwood germplasm and tree breeding programs.

ArborGen will now provide quality products and services to an expanded customer base, operating from more than 20 locations in the United States, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, and producing more than 350 million annual tree stock sales.


Purdue University researchers seek genes behind rice nutrients to combat malnutrition

- Purdue University (press release), Nov. 14, 2007


West Lafayette, Indiana - One research team is going with the flow and against the grain by searching out genes that regulate the transport and flow of nutrients within the rice plant and into storage in its edible grain.

Discoveries could help improve the relatively poor nutritional value of the grain, a factor that explains how more than half the world's people suffer from some form of nutrient deficiency, according to the World Health Organization.

"Identifying genes involved in the nutrient-loading of the rice grain could allow engineers or breeders to develop new strains of rice with higher nutrient levels," said research team leader and Purdue University horticulture professor David Salt. "This could have a major impact on human health since many of the 3 billion people with nutrient deficiencies rely on rice as their main food source."

Salt and his team will use a combination of techniques and processes to hone in on genes that govern the rice grain ionome, or all of the plant grain's mineral nutrients and ions, or tiny charged particles. The researchers will examine genes that regulate levels of elements both healthful and harmful. Micronutrients essential to human health, like iron and zinc, will be a particular focus since billions of people suffer from iron or zinc deficiency.

Initial steps in the study, which was recently funded by a $5.5 million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation, are designed to find so-called "candidate genes" worthy of further investigation, Salt said. To this end, researchers will analyze concentrations of 18 different elements in 1,800 varieties of rice from around the world and also will scour Salt's existing database of genetic and ionic data from thousands of plant and yeast samples.

Immediate insights could help improve scientists' understanding of the rice plant, Oryza sativa, and, by extension, could shed light into the biochemistry of other crops in the grass family, including maize, barley and wheat.

Another important goal is to better understand Oryza's ability to take up harmful chemicals like cadmium and arsenic, Salt said. Contaminated soil and water make arsenic poisoning a major concern in Southeastern Asia, particularly in Bangladesh, he said.

Researchers will use DNA microarrays to help find genes responsible for differences in observed phenotypes, or physical properties, like high iron concentrations. Salt said they will study both naturally occurring and mutant rice varieties.

Since plants are immobile, they must make the most of their environment, and their ability to survive and thrive is therefore tied to their ability to take up the right chemicals, usually in ionic form, from the soil. Plants also must be able to store chemicals for their own health and the health of their offspring.

Data from the study will be continually added to the Purdue Ionomics Information Management System database, accessible online at http://www.purdue.edu/dp/ionomics.

Salt will collaborate with researchers Mary Lou Guerinot of Dartmouth College and Shannon Pinson of Texas A&M University. Others involved in the research are Purdue's Ivan Baxter and Min Zhang and Lee Tarpley of Texas A&M.


Mushrooms may aid rapid vaccine response

- Biology News Net, Nov. 19, 2007


A rapid production of therapeutic human drugs using modified mushrooms may help mount a quicker response to various public health problems, according to plant pathologists who have received a federal grant to perfect their technique.

C. Peter Romaine, professor of plant pathology at Penn State and holder of the John B. Swayne Chair in Spawn Science, said, "We are looking to address several public health issues through our research."

Romaine and his colleague, Xi Chen, previously a post-doctoral scholar at Penn State, hold the patent to genetically modify Agaricus bisporus - the button variety of mushroom, which is the predominant edible species worldwide.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently awarded Penn State and Agarigen Inc., Romaine's spin-off company based in Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, N.C., $2.2 million in initial funding under the Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals (AMP) program for the rapid production of vaccines and other therapeutic proteins in altered mushrooms. The total value of the effort, if both phases of the development program are completed, could be up to $5.9 million.

"Our immediate research goals are to maximize the level of expression of various biopharmaceuticals and to devise efficient and economical methods for their extraction and purification from mushroom tissue," Romaine said.

At the end of the second year of the contract, Romaine and his colleagues, who include Agarigen cofounder and former Penn State graduate Dr. Donald S. Walters, Penn State post doctoral associate Dr. Carl Schlagnhaufer and a team of nine Agarigen scientists, are expected to demonstrate an ability to produce vaccines or other biological drugs within 12 weeks.

"It will be a blind test," said Romaine. "We will be handed genes for vaccines, monoclonal antibodies or other therapeutic proteins, and asked to produce them in the mushroom."

The drugs will then be extracted from the mushroom into forms that could be administered to people. In a pending third year of the project, the researchers are expected to show they can execute a full-scale manufacturing effort and produce three million doses of a drug in 12 weeks.

Researchers at Penn State and Agarigen are currently focusing on assembling gene components for expression in the mushroom, and fine-tuning their techniques to ensure a consistently high level and quality of the drug.

"We are evaluating different gene sequences from a broad array of organisms to determine which provide us the highest level of drug expression in the mushroom," explained Romaine. "It is an empirical process, but we are leaving no stone unturned to achieve our end goal."


Phytoremediation of Mercury and Organomercurials in Chloroplast Transgenic Plants: Enhanced Root Uptake, Translocation to Shoots, and Volatilization

- Hussein S. Hussein, et. al., ASAP Environ. Sci. Technol., ASAP Article, 10.1021/es070908q, web posted Nov. 20, 2007



Transgenic tobacco plants engineered with bacterial merA and merB genes via the chloroplast genome were investigated to study the uptake, translocation of different forms of mercury (Hg) from roots to shoots, and their volatilization. Untransformed plants, regardless of the form of Hg supplied, reached a saturation point at 200 M of phenylmercuric acetate (PMA) or HgCl2, accumulating Hg concentrations up to 500 g g-1 with significant reduction in growth. In contrast, chloroplast transgenic lines continued to grow well with Hg concentrations in root tissues up to 2000 g g-1. Chloroplast transgenic lines accumulated both the organic and inorganic Hg forms to levels surpassing the concentrations found in the soil. The organic-Hg form was absorbed and translocated more efficiently than the inorganic-Hg form in transgenic lines, whereas no such difference was observed in untransformed plants. Chloroplast-transgenic lines showed about 100-fold increase in the efficiency of Hg accumulation in shoots compared to untransformed plants. This is the first report of such high levels of Hg accumulation in green leaves or tissues. Transgenic plants attained a maximum rate of elemental-Hg volatilization in two days when supplied with PMA and in three days when supplied with inorganic-Hg, attaining complete volatilization within a week. The combined expression of merAB via the chloroplast genome enhanced conversion of Hg2+ into Hg,0 conferred tolerance by rapid volatilization and increased uptake of different forms of mercury, surpassing the concentrations found in the soil. These investigations provide novel insights for improvement of plant tolerance and detoxification of mercury.

Full text in html: http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/asap.cgi/esthag/asap/html/es070908q.html

Full text in pdf: http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/asap.cgi/esthag/asap/pdf/es070908q.pdf


Health Panel Finds All-Natural Carcinogens Galore in Holiday Dinner Menu

"[T]race levels of man-made chemicals that cause cancer in lab animals should not be a concern."

- American Council on Science and Health (press release), Nov. 16, 2007


New York, NY -- Scientists associated with the American Council on Science and Health analyzed the natural foods that make up a traditional holiday dinner -- and have found that they are loaded with "carcinogens": chemicals that in large doses cause cancer in laboratory animals. None of these chemicals are made by man or added to the foods. Indeed, all of these "carcinogens" occur naturally in foods. But ACSH scientists have good news: these natural carcinogens pose no hazard to human health.

"The widespread presence of natural carcinogens in our food is clear evidence of why trace levels of man-made chemicals that cause cancer in lab animals should not be a concern," notes Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president of ACSH.

Much of the concern about the health effects of chemicals stems from the overly broad application of the so-called Delaney amendment to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. As the ACSH Holiday Dinner Menu publication explains, the Delaney clause originally banned from American foods any artificial substance, whether pesticide residue or food additive, that could be shown to cause cancer in lab animals -- no matter how minuscule the amount found in the foods or how high the dose given to the animals.

Over the years the Delaney clause has triggered regulatory action against a number of chemicals, including food colors and the artificial sweeteners cyclamate and saccharin. These compounds are animal carcinogens at high doses but are not suspected of causing human cancer. (Saccharin escaped a Delaney-instigated ban by the FDA only through an act of Congress.)

Usually, the chemicals examined were synthetic, since it was assumed that only man-made substances would cause cancer in laboratory animals. This, in fact, is not the case. Toxicologists have confirmed that natural chemicals, too, can be animal carcinogens when given in high doses.

"If the Delaney clause were applied to the carcinogens that occur naturally in our foods, we would have to ban much of our holiday dinner -- and the rest of the foods we eat all year," adds Dr. Whelan. It should not be assumed that man-made chemicals are any more dangerous than natural chemicals.

The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 was a glimmer of light at the end of the regulatory tunnel. The act exempts pesticides from the "zero risk" provisions of the Delaney clause and demands instead a new standard of "reasonable certainty of no harm." Unfortunately, the new bill leaves standing the application of the Delaney clause's zero-risk standard to food additives, which still must pass this scientifically insupportable threshold.

ACSH's Holiday Menu highlights the chemicals -- and the carcinogens -- that Mother Nature herself has put in our food. These natural carcinogens, by and large, have been shown to cause cancer only in very high doses given to lab animals over a lifetime.

Even a recent addition to the menu -- acrylamide, a known human and animal neurotoxin -- has not been linked credibly to human cancer. In fact, virtually none of the compounds listed in ACSH's menu are established human carcinogens; and, as the Holiday Menu demonstrates, we would have to eat enormous amounts of these foods over long periods of time before we could ever expect them to cause cancer. The same is true of the majority of the food additives that are now considered to be "carcinogenic" based exclusively on animal experiments.

The American Council on Science and Health strongly endorses the progress Congress has made thus far in removing pesticides from the purview of Delaney, and ACSH urges Congress to continue to apply common sense and scientific reasoning to our food-protection programs. Says Dr. Whelan, "We must continue the progress we have made in changing our food laws -- and particularly the Delaney clause -- to bring them into line with scientific reality. Removing the Delaney clause entirely from our food safety laws would be highly desirable and consistent with our modern-day understanding of food technology and toxicology."

Contact: Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, 212-362-7044 x242, whelane[at]acsh.org Dr. Ruth Kava, 212-362-7044 x234, kavar[at]acsh.org

The American Council on Science and Health is an independent, non-profit consumer education organization concerned with issues related to food, nutrition, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, lifestyle, the environment and health.


Plant Breeding and Biotechnology - Societal Context and the Future of Agriculture

- Denis J. Murphy, University of Glamorgan, United Kingdom, Sept. 2007, Cambridge University Press


Hardback ISBN-13: 9780521823890

Paperback ISBN-13: 9780521530880

A word from the author

In my recent book, Plant Breeding and Biotechnology: Societal Context and the Future of Agriculture, I attempt to analyze how the scientific and social structures that underpin crop science have evolved over the past couple of centuries. In particular I was keen to understand the peculiar recent phenomenon of agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech) and the immense controversies that it has spawned. Unlike previous and arguably equally revolutionary developments in crop science, from hybrid varieties to the Green Revolution, agbiotech has unleashed an unparalleled storm of public disquiet and scientific dispute that has yet to be fully resolved.

For the past thirty years I have been privileged to work on a wide variety of crop related research topics in a range of institutes and universities, from California to Germany, via Australia and the UK. This has enabled me to follow at close quarters how academic and commercial research has evolved and the effects of such developments on both research scientists and the wider plant breeding industry. The past decade in particular has witnessed many momentous changes in the conduct of plant research and its application via breeding to the improvement of global agriculture. Following the spectacular successes of the earlier Green Revolution have come the modern opportunities and challenges of biotechnology and genomics. Alongside these scientific developments there has been significant restructuring and realignment of both public and private sector R&D related to crop breeding.

This book follows the history of plant breeding R&D in relation to its scientific aspects and in its wider socio-economic aspects. One conclusion is that progress in crop improvement has always tended to be a consequence of a combination of better science (i.e. greater knowledge), more flexible institutional structures (to contain and apply the science), and greater economic opportunities (to enable people to profit from application of the science). One of the conclusions is that 1st generation agbiotech is in danger of drawing resources away from alternative tried and tested methods of crop improvement and has resulted in an overly monopolistic business model. It has also resulted in an unrealistic regulatory environment that is too lax in places (e.g. in granting broad patent claims) and too restrictive in others (e.g. in inhibiting the entry of new products and companies into the marketplace).

At the end of the book I list a number of recommendations for the future of plant breeding R&D that are meant to stimulate a debate on the nature of crop research and the structure of the industry as a whole.


Fourteen Global Experts Comment on Safety and Use of Genetically Modified Food Crops

- Monsanto Co. (press release). Nov. 14, 2007


In a new online video and podcast released today, 14 globally recognized and distinguished scientists, economists and thought leaders discuss the use of genetically modified food crops ( http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/experts.asp?id=GeneticallyModifiedFoodCrops ) over the last decade - including their proven safety, benefits to the environment, and contributions to the lives of third-world farm families and communities.

"Here we have a very versatile technology, which has the power and the capacity to contribute to a more effective, a more benign, a more sustainable agriculture," says Dr. Clive James, agricultural scientist and founder of the not-for-profit International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). "80 percent of the poor people that we have on this planet today are farmers or people that work on farms. So, therefore, if you can introduce biotech crops ... that will increase the income of these people, then you are making a direct contribution to the alleviation of poverty."

In 2006, more than 10.3 million farmers across 22 countries grew more than 252 million acres (102 million hectares) of genetically modified soybean, corn, canola and cotton crops. The vast majority (9.3 million) of those farmers were resource-poor farmers from developing countries, such as China, India, the Philippines and South Africa, where increased income from genetically modified food crops is contributing to the alleviation of poverty.

"So we can't just harshly and violently oppose this technology when we know that it can work for our farmers," explains the Honorable Dr. Ruth Oniang'o, a member of the Kenyan Parliament and founder of the not-for-profit Rural Outreach Program. "Because the people who are opposed to these technologies are not the farmers themselves - they are people who can afford food."

"If we give important technologies to grow more food in poor places - better seed varieties, better ways to manage soil nutrients, better ways to manage plant pathogens - ... it's going to create livelihoods. It's going to create income in the villages. It's going to convert what is now sub-subsistence agriculture into commercial farming," says Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, quetelet professor of Sustainable Development and professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, director of The Earth Institute, and director of The United Nations Millennium Project.

"Looking ahead to the year 2050, we will have to produce the food and fiber for something approaching 10 billion people," says Dr. Norman Borlaug, who received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership role in the "Green Revolution" to increase food production and currently serves as senior consultant to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and as president of the Sasakawa Africa Association. "Can we do it? I say yes. If we continue to develop technology - including more widespread application of biotechnology."

In addition to Drs. Borlaug, James, Oniango'o and Sachs, the new video features comments from:

- Dr. Klaus Ammann, honorary professor emeritus and former director of the Botanical Garden at the University of Bern, Switzerland

- Dr. Francisco Arago, senior researcher in Genetic Research and Biotechnology at Embrapa in Brazil

- Dr. Roger Beachy, researcher and founding president of the not-for-profit Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in the USA

- Dr. Laveesh Bhandari, economist and director of Indicus Analytics in India

- Graham Brookes, agricultural economist and director of PG Economics in England

- Mary Lee Chin, M.S., R.D. of Nutrition Edge Communications in the USA

- Dr. Luciano Di Ciero, scientific researcher in the Forest Genetic Research and Biotechnology Laboratory at ESALQ, University of So Paulo, Brazil

- Dr. C. Ford Runge, director of The Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy, and professor of Applied Economics and Law at The University of Minnesota, USA

- The Honorable Lord Taverne, member of the United Kingdom's House of Lords and founder of the charity Sense about Science

- Francois Traore, president of the National Cotton Producers Union of Burkina Faso

These experts discuss the proven safety of genetically modified food crops, their contributions to the environment over the last decade, and the inherent value for farmers in third-world countries. The video can be viewed, downloaded or embedded into another Web site from the Conversations about Plant Biotechnology (http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/) Web site. The transcript and additional comments from many of these experts are also available.


Czech Republic - Your Partner in the Agrobiotechnology Research

Date: 22 November 2007, 10 a.m. - 5.15 p.m.


Technology Centre AS CR, Czech Biotechnology Association Biotrin and the Czech Liaison Office for R&D in Brussels have the pleasure to invite you to a one-day workshop:

Workshop is organized under the auspices of the Permanent Representation of the Czech Republic to the EU www.czechrep.be and Dr. Hynek Fajmon, Member of the European Parliament.

Venue: Conference Hall of the Permanent Representation of the Czech Republic to the EU, 15 Rue Caroly, 1050 Brussels.

All participants are kindly requested to register in advance by completing the Registration Form at http://geform.tc.cz/agrobiotech/ before 12 November 2007.

Traditional biotechnology in agriculture and food industry is one of the oldest and strongest sectors in the Czech Republic. Who would not know the Czech most famous beer brands such as Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser Budvar or Gambrinus? But the Czech agrobiotech sector does not mean only brewing and malting, wine making and distilling!

The agrobiotechnology sector gains on importance in recent years, being fostered by the advance of genetic engineering. Plant and agricultural biotechnology, veterinary biotechnology, environmental biotechnology - in all these specified sectors Czech universities, research institutes and private companies perform state-of-the-art research. The favourable legislative environment as well as public positive attitude to modern agrobiotechnology in the Czech Republic open broad possibilities for international collaboration.

The seminar will bring an overview of selected biotechnology activities in the Czech Republic in the European context and provide an insight into the agricultural and food biotechnology sector in the Czech Republic. Key research players will present their achievements and offer collaboration for future joint research activities.




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