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December 14, 2007


Biotech Holiday Gifts; Petition Against Moratorium; Organic Lawsuit Lands on its Ear


* Petition: NO to the moratorium
* Monsanto wins ruling on canola
* Gene Flow Unlikely to Harm Environment
* Moss and the origin of land plants
* Pope's Message for the World Day of Peace
* GM soybeans-Response to Ermakova
* GM crops in Europe: how much value?
* Peasants Storm Brazil Farm
* Bove Dodges Jail Term
* Biotech Holiday Gifts


NO to a moratorium on the cultivation of GM maize

- Web dated Dec. 1, 2007


The cohabitation of conventional, GM and organic maize cultivation is possible. It is a reality for years in many countries. A moratorium on the cultivation of GM maize approved by the EU is not scientifically justified. Such a decision would be based only on imaginary or false uncertainties concerning environmental or food safety. It would bring no new knowledge that could reduce the hypothetical risks that could be generated by the cultivation and the consumption of GM Bt maize. Such a moratorium would be in contradiction with the precautionary principle.

List of the first signatories of the declaration:

Michel Naud, Jean-Paul Krivine, Louis-Marie Houdebine, Marcel Kuntz, Yvette Dattée, Philippe Joudrier, Marc Fellous.

Declaration text:

Is there any real reason to stop GM maize cultivation?

Any new plant variety will have an impact on the environment and possibly on food safety. It is therefore inappropriate to consider the significance or safety of GMOs per se, no more than any other type of plant obtained by classical breeding techniques. Hence, any new plant variety, genetically modified or not, should thus be considered only on a case-by-case basis.

Plant varieties obtained either by classical breeding or by gene transfer share a similar level of risk, which is low in both cases. A plant variety resistant to some insects and obtained by classical breeding would bear essentially the same risks as a GM variety with the same insect resistant characteristics. However, the current bio-safety rules oblige the latter to be subjected to stricter testing than the former.

GMOs may lead to problems if the species or the varieties disseminate spontaneously. This risk could be even higher if the modification in the GM plants confers a selective advantage under normal cultivation conditions. Such GMOs are not authorized. For example, herbicide-tolerant rapeseed has not been approved in France by the Commission du Génie Biomoléculaire (CGB) nor in the UE by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The cultivation of conventional maize and of insect-resistant GM maize does not raise any particular risk of dissemination, since this species does not disseminate spontaneously. Numerous experiments, performed on several continents, have led to the definition of the required distance between two maize fields necessary for the coexistence of different production methods, which also requires acceptance of trace amounts of GMO. Legal threshold levels remain to be defined. These results are in agreement with previous isolation practices allowing high purity seeds to be produced.

Maize has been cultivated and eaten by humans for thousands of years without any negative effect for animal or human health, despite the numerous genetic modifications incurred during classical genetic selection. The insecticide active compound present in GM maize has also been exploited for decades by conventional agriculture, organic agriculture and gardeners, by spreading spores from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (which contains several toxins termed Bt), without any toxic or allergic response being observed. Specialized committees throughout the world agree on this point. Therefore, the association of maize and the active compounds of Bt toxins has a negligible chance of creating varieties containing substances deleterious for consumer health and no such events have been observed. On the contrary, it has been shown that Bt maize is less susceptible to pathogenic fungal infections than conventional maize and therefore contains lower levels of mycotoxins, which are carcinogenic substances.

In addition, the potential environmental effects of GM Bt maize, in particular on non-target insects, have already been widely studied. Without ruling out the interest of follow-up studies, the available studies consistently indicate that GM Bt maize has a lesser environmental impact than the authorized insecticide treatment.

The cohabitation of conventional, GM and organic maize cultivation is therefore possible. It has been a reality for years in about twenty countries without any particular problem.

A moratorium on the cultivation of GM maize approved by the EU is therefore not scientifically justified as it would be based only on imaginary or false uncertainties concerning environmental or food safety. It would bring no new knowledge that could reduce the hypothetical risks that could be generated by the cultivation and the consumption of GM Bt maize. Therefore, such a moratorium would be in contradiction with the precautionary principle.

To support this declaration please complete the form: http://nonaumoratoire.free.fr/repertoire/formulaire.html


Monsanto wins ruling on gene-modified canola

- Bloomberg News, Dec. 14, 2007


Monsanto, the world's biggest seed producer, won a five-year legal fight in Canada over its genetically altered canola with the country's top court spurning a bid by a group of farmers and consumers to sue the company.

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Thursday a request for a hearing from a group of organic farmers, processors and consumers in Saskatchewan who sought to overturn a lower court decision denying the class-action lawsuit.

The Saskatchewan Organic Directorate-Organic Agricultural Protection Fund led the suit, which was filed in 2002. The directorate claims farmers and processors suffered financial losses after genetically modified canola was introduced in the province by Monsanto and contaminated their organic products.

"It's a significant loss to us," Arnold Taylor, co-chairman of the protection fund, said in a telephone interview.

"We feel our case is relatively strong."

The group may still back individual lawsuits by farmers against St. Louis-based Monsanto, which has a market value of $57 billion, Taylor said.

"We haven't made that decision yet," Taylor said. "We probably won't make it until the new year."

Canada produced 9.1 million tons of canola seed last year.

Guest ed. note: The Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal without commenting on the case. This essentially affirms the findings of the lower court. Perhaps the most significant finding is that organic farmers, by voluntarily establishing a 'zero tolerance' policy, had themselves created the very problem they complained about. Unless organic farmers and certifying bodies adjust their approach to tolerance and coexistence, this rationale makes similar lawsuits largely futile.


Report Says Gene Flow From GM Crops Not Likely to Harm Environment

- UC Davis (press release), Dec. 12, 2007


Gene flow from genetically modified crop plants to their wild relatives will have little overall impact on human health or the environment, predicts a team of researchers in a report released today by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology.

Gene flow -- the movement of genes from one plant population to another -- has always occurred naturally but has drawn particular attention during the past 10 years, as genetically modified crop plants have moved into commercial production.

"Regulatory requirements and market standards that are specific to crops developed using biotechnology have resulted in much closer monitoring of gene flow than has been done in the past," said plant scientist Kent Bradford, a co-author of the report and director of UC Davis' Seed Biotechnology Center.

"After analyzing a wide range of crop-trait-location combinations, it was determined that relatively few of these combinations present the potential for gene flow to adversely affect the environment or human health," Bradford said. "Gene flow within a given crop can result in economic impacts for specific markets but these can be managed through proven strategies that make it possible for genetically modified crops and nonbiotech crops to co-exist."

In this report, the contributing scientists describe the biological traits that are being imparted to both biotech crops and nonbiotech crops, and the ramifications each has for gene flow. They discuss the potential for the inadvertent mixing of seeds or other genetic material from a given plant with a shipment of other seed or grain, and examine isolation and segregation methods for preventing such unwanted gene flow.

The report summarizes existing regulatory and risk-assessment mechanisms for biotech crops and discusses the potential economic implications of biotech crops in the marketplace. It also explores future policy and research issues.

The full text of the paper "Implications of Gene Flow in the Scale-up and Commercial Use of Biotechnology-derived Crops: Economic and Policy Considerations," is available online at http://www.cast-science.org. The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology is an international consortium of 38 scientific and professional societies that assembles and interprets science-based information and disseminates it to the public.


Moss genome tells of origin of land plants

- UC Berkeley (press release), Dec. 13, 2007


BERKELEY - Some 400 million years ago, on a lifeless lakeshore lapped by waves, floating algae learned to survive in the open air and launched an invasion that transformed the Earth into a green paradise.

The secrets of these first steps onto land are now being revealed thanks to the sequencing of a modern descendent of these first land dwellers, a dainty moss called Physcomitrella patens that sprouts on recently exposed shorelines, quickly fruits, and then dies.

The sequencing of the moss genome was reported today (Thursday, Dec. 13) in Science magazine's rapid online publication Science Express by an international team of scientists led by the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, Calif. It will be printed in Science in January 2008.

"Land plants may have evolved in this transition zone where, as the water rises and falls, aquatic plants found themselves repeatedly but not continuously exposed to the air and had to come up with ways of protecting their seeds or spores from desiccation," said Joint Genome Institute project leader Jeffrey Boore, an adjunct associate professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and chief executive officer of Genome Project Solutions in Hercules, Calif.

Because of the key position of mosses in the evolution of green plants, the Physcomitrella genome may hold the key to the origin of such traits as desiccation tolerance, said Brent Mishler, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology who, with Ralph Quatrano of Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., originally proposed the moss genome project.

"One of the claims to fame of mosses is the ability to dry up completely and come back to life again," said Mishler, who is director of the University and Jepson Herbaria, two collections of pressed plants housed together along with research labs, libraries and archives at UC Berkeley.

"We have been looking for years at all levels, from the organism down to the molecular level, at how mosses do this, and the genome sequence will help speed that work."

From the Department of Energy's perspective, Boore said, discovering the genes involved in desiccation tolerance may help plant biologists incorporate the trait into other plants to improve their growth in arid conditions, allowing, for example, biofuel feedstocks to be grown on marginal land.

Physcomitrella is also a model organism that is easily manipulated for study of how many plant genes function.

"Physcomitrella is to flowering plants what the fruit fly is to humans; that is, in the same way that the fly and mouse have informed animal biology, the genome of this moss will advance our exploration of plant genes and their functions and utility," said Joint Genome Institute director Eddy Rubin.

Quatrano added that, "unlike vascular plant systems, we can target and delete specific moss genes to study their function in important crop processes, and replace them with genes from crop plants to allow us to study the evolution of gene function. In addition to the genome, extensive genomic tools are now available in Physcomitrella to study comparative gene function and evolution as related to bioenergy and other processes of importance to crops."

"The availability of the Physcomitrella genome is expected to create important new opportunities for understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in plant cell wall synthesis and assembly," according to Chris Somerville, UC Berkeley professor of plant and microbial biology and Director of the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a partnership between UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the global energy company BP.

"The ease with which genes can be experimentally modified in Physcomitrella will facilitate a wide range of studies of the cell wall, the principal component of terrestrial biomass," he said. "Additionally, the moss has fewer cell types than higher plants and has a much more rapid lifecycle, which also greatly facilitates experimental studies of cell walls. Thus, the completion of the genome is an important step forward in facilitating basic research concerning the development of cellulosic biofuels."

In the Science paper, researchers from more than 40 institutions report that the Physcomitrella genome contains just under 500 million nucleotides and possesses nearly 36,000 genes, which is about 50 percent more than are thought to be in the human genome. Physcomitrella is the first nonvascular land plant to be sequenced. Vascular plants lack specialized tissues (phloem or xylem) for circulating fluids, instead possessing specialized tissues for internal transport. They neither flower nor produce seeds, but reproduce via spores.

Mishler said that Physcomitrella is well-placed phylogenetically to fill in the large gap between the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas, also sequenced by the Joint Genome Institute, and the flowering plants.

"Having the full Physcomitrella genome available to the public greatly advances bioinformatic comparisons and functional genomics in plants," said Mishler, who is part of a major effort within the Berkeley Natural History Museums - a consortium of six museums at UC Berkeley - to link the two. "This is a great example of how phylogenetics can integrate with functional and applied studies."

Mishler noted that the draft genome sequence is only the beginning. Plant scientists plan to meet regularly to assign specific functions to the newly identified genes based on experiments in the moss or by analogy with related genes in other organisms. This experimentation process is called annotation. The first so-called annotation jamboree was hosted in June 2006 by UC Berkeley and the Joint Genome Institute, and another is planned in Finland next year.

The genome sequencing was enabled through the Joint Genome Institute's Community Sequencing Program. The work involved Boore, David Cove and Andrew Cuming of the University of Leeds (United Kingdom); Mitsuyasu Hasebe and Tomoaki Nishiyama of Japan's National Institute for Basic Biology; Ralf Reski and Stefan Rensing of the University of Freiburg in Germany; and scores of other researchers.


Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace

- Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican Website, web posted Dec. 8, 2007*



The Human Family, a Community of Peace

The family needs a home, a fit environment in which to develop its proper relationships. For the human family, this home is the earth, the environment that God the Creator has given us to inhabit with creativity and responsibility. We need to care for the environment: it has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion. Human beings, obviously, are of supreme worth vis-à-vis creation as a whole. Respecting the environment does not mean considering material or animal nature more important than man. Rather, it means not selfishly considering nature to be at the complete disposal of our own interests, for future generations also have the right to reap its benefits and to exhibit towards nature the same responsible freedom that we claim for ourselves. Nor must we overlook the poor, who are excluded in many cases from the goods of creation destined for all. Humanity today is rightly concerned about the ecological balance of tomorrow. It is important for assessments in this regard to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions, and above all with the aim of reaching agreement on a model of sustainable development capable of ensuring the well-being of all while respecting environmental balances. If the protection of the environment involves costs, they should be justly distributed, taking due account of the different levels of development of various countries and the need for solidarity with future generations.

* Guest ed. note: The World Day of Peace declaration is generally issued on January 1 of the year. Its early release is said to be prompted by the meeting in Bali, Indonesia regarding global warming.


GM soybeans-revisiting a controversial format

- Andrew Marshall, Nature Biotechnology, vol. 25, pp. 1359-1360, Dec. 2007

Excerpt reproduced with permission


The September Feature was a new format for Nature Biotechnology. My aim in publishing this Feature was to provide an informative presentation of the science behind Ermakova's work, the problems posed by publicizing original data to the media without first publishing it in the peer-reviewed literature, and to open this particular debate to a wider audience. Indeed, many investigators who were unaware of her results now have an opportunity to build on her work and attempt to reproduce it. As I indicated to Ermakova in my original e-mail invitation to her (see Supplementary Materials 1 online), I felt that the biotech community would best be served if she had the opportunity to present her findings and conclusions in her own words-findings and conclusions that could not be published in Nature Biotechnology because of her decision to publicize them in other forums.

As Nature Biotechnology went to press, 20 letters had been submitted to the journal and several directly to the management of Nature Publishing Group concerning the format of this Feature and the process by which it was commissioned. Three letters applauded the journal for a useful and informative analysis of science that had been previously published without peer review. But the vast majority of letters were critical, repeating the points raised here by Irina Ermakova; we have printed above only those letters that present additional concerns.

There appears to be confusion about the way in which this Feature was conceived, commissioned and produced. There is a perception in some quarters that the Feature ultimately published in Nature Biotechnology is the same as a Commentary originally submitted to the journal by Val Giddings. This is not the case. I elected to decline to publish this original Commentary because the critique of Ermakova's work presented was based on data from publicly available sources, which may or may not have been reliable.

Ermakova's existing data were ineligible for peer-reviewed publication because she and others (including Brian John) had already promoted publicly the 2005 data before they received careful scrutiny in a peer-reviewed journal. She had distributed them widely in reports and discussed them with journalists. This contravenes our prepublication policy (http://www.nature.com/authors/editorial_policies/confidentiality.html). I strongly support this policy. Peer-reviewed publications are the places to publish scientific advances-not press releases, newspapers or postings on the internet. This prepublication policy is shared by all Nature journals and other top-tier science journals. This was made clear to Ermakova several times in our correspondence (see Supplementary Materials 1 online). As Bruce Chassy, Giddings, Alan McHughen and Vivian Moses (Chassy et al.) point out in the September Feature, and Stewart1 has commented in our pages previously, circumventing peer review can have pernicious consequences for the public perception of science.

To provide readers with the most informative article on Ermakova's controversial work, I elected to go directly to her and asked whether she would be willing to describe her work in her own words and to pursue publication in the form of a Feature. My concept was to pose questions to Ermakova and then have a group of researchers respond to her answers. This was explained to Ermakova in the original commissioning e-mail (see Supplementary Materials 1 online).

Because of the controversy surrounding the work, I felt the readers would be interested in a presentation of Ermakova's results in the context of a scientific analysis. Including comments from established scientists was important because to my knowledge her results had not been presented in the context of a skeptical scientific analysis anywhere before.

A concern expressed in the Correspondence by Ermakova and in many letters received by the journal is that the researchers invited to comment on Ermakova's work did not comprise a representative sample of the broad range of views of scientists. On the contrary, Chassy, Moses and McHughen have established publication records, have thought deeply about Ermakova's results, are qualified to discuss their societal impact and can assess the data on the basis of established scientific norms. In drawing up his response, Chassy also consulted with an expert in the field of animal toxicology. In addition, Giddings is a recognized expert and consultant in biotech with respect to policy and regulations. I would also like to point out that contrary to Joe Cummins' assertion, I have no interest in, and never have been, in the field of "public relations on behalf of the biotech industry."

As Chassy et al. point out, a 'pro-GM' or an 'anti-GM' position is inherently unscientific. I wholeheartedly concur with this viewpoint. The safety and efficacy of any product should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, not according to the method by which it was produced. I am also struck that none of the correspondence elicited by the article has taken issue with the validity of the scientific criticisms made, only the identity of the authors who made them.

I sent Ermakova an initial set of 17 questions, to which she responded. These questions and answers were then forwarded to Giddings and Chassy, who conferred with Moses and McHughen. Their responses were appended to Ermakova's answers and I wrote an introduction explaining why we were publishing the Feature. In the galley proofs seen by Ermakova (Supplementary Materials 2 online), some questions had already been merged and one of the original questions ('What mechanisms do you think might underlie the health effects you observe in your study?') had been removed for conciseness and space constraints. During editing, I dispensed with the question and answer about mechanisms (question number 13 in Supplementary Materials 1 online) as I felt it was unnecessary and inappropriate to speculate on the mechanism of the defects reported by Ermakova, given the serious concerns raised by Chassy et al. over the rigor of the science and the design of the experimental protocol. It turns out that this question is the part of her original draft that contained the references she mentions were removed and gave the impression of her work as "inferior and unsupported by the literature in comparison to the critiques." Ermakova has now cited some of these omitted references in her letter above; for the rest of the originally cited papers, readers are referred to the list below2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Ermakova's other concerns related to the editorial process. She asks why I refused to publish new unpublished data from her laboratory, while at the same time assembling and publishing an article that is "a brutal attack on her results." This is conflating two separate issues, the journalistic criteria for publishing a Feature with the editorial criteria applied to selecting papers for peer review in the Research section. The Feature tackled Ermakova's original 2005 results because of their societal impact and the public attention they garnered when originally circulated widely over the internet and in the media. In contrast, research papers are selected by the journal's editors for evaluation by outside experts on the basis of whether the findings reported are novel, a significant advance over previous work and of sufficient interest to a broad audience. As stated above, Ermakova had disqualified her 2005 data from the latter process by not conforming with our prepublication policy.

I indicated to Ermakova that Nature Biotechnology would be willing to consider any new data she had obtained, and I suggested she submit a presubmission enquiry to the journal. The presubmission enquiry was evaluated by one of our editors, who felt that the results would be better published elsewhere. Ermakova is still welcome to submit the full paper to us; however, promises of being selected for peer review are not made to authors at the presubmission stage. Publication of a journalistic Feature focusing on Ermakova's previous work cannot in any way influence decisions to send new research out for peer review, unless we deem it appropriate according to our editorial criteria for research papers.

Another point raised by Ermakova and by Brian John is that she was sent a 'publication proof' that showed her name as the author. This was a mistake made by Nature Biotechnology when generating the proofs, which I did not check before they were sent to Ermakova. Her name was mistakenly placed on the proof, which contained my introduction and her responses to my questions, but not the comments of Chassy et al. (Supplementary Materials 2 online) The proof was thus much different from the form we had discussed for the final published article (containing comments from other scientists). Clearly, this was confusing and led Ermakova to believe she would be the sole author of the piece.

I accept full responsibility for not reconfirming with Ermakova what I had explained in my original e-mail to her, that her responses were to be part of a larger Feature, and that I would be the author of this journalistic piece. Again, I believe many of the misunderstandings here have arisen due to a wrong perception-both by Ermakova and other correspondents to this journal-that the September Feature is a peer-reviewed research paper, rather than journalistic content.

Ermakova's charge that she never saw the final remarks of Chassy et al. or my introduction to the article also reflects a misunderstanding of the publication process for content that is not peer-reviewed research. The Feature we were preparing on Ermakova's work was intended to be a journalistic Feature for the magazine section of Nature Biotechnology. Like other purveyors of news content who conduct interviews and then publish articles based on the content, there is no precedent for revealing the names or comments of the other contributors to an article. This is standard practice for Nature Biotechnology, other Nature journals and for journalistic content in general. In these circumstances, it is the editor's responsibility to faithfully reproduce the remarks made by the interviewed parties.

There are several take-home lessons from this first experience, if Nature Biotechnology were to repeat this unusual format in the future. We will do a better job ensuring that all authors grasp the process from the start, including authorship and issues surrounding comments made in any interviews. Although I regret that Ermakova misunderstood our publication process, at no time did I indicate that she would be given full authorship of the Feature or that she would see the critiques of the researchers or learn their identities. The key e-mail correspondence between Ermakova and me is presented in Supplementary Materials 1 online so readers can make up their own minds about the quality of the communication process.

In the future, it would be better practice to ask single scientists with particular expertise to respond to different questions rather than publish their comments as a group. In the format published in the September Feature, the comments from Ermakova were appended with collective comments from Chassy et al. In his letter, John raises the point that no one takes "full responsibility" for collective responses. This is one aspect that many of our correspondents found particularly distasteful.

With hindsight, a more thorough editorial effort should be undertaken to ensure that authors whose work is being commented upon have sufficient opportunity to respond to criticisms that are based on insufficiency of data provided. Although I had asked Ermakova to show more behavioral data in response to questions raised by Chassy et al., several other comments in the published text criticized her for not providing other data, to which I gave her no opportunity to respond. That said, Ermakova has now had a full opportunity in these pages to respond to all the comments in full.

I would certainly welcome feedback from readers as to ways in which this Feature format could be improved in the future. One question is whether it is appropriate for a journal to allocate pages in the form of a full research article (as Leifert, Traavik and Heinemann suggest I should have done for Ermakova's experiments) when the primary criteria for editorial selection is the unusual societal and regulatory impact of the work, rather than its scientific quality or impact. Perhaps one solution for such papers would be for their listing on prepublication servers that allow community comment in an open manner and in a neutral environment (e.g., Nature Precedings, http://precedings.nature.com/). Unlike public release in the media, this would not preclude later publication in a journal. I invite readers to make suggestions for ways to present work that has circumvented the traditional peer review process but is nevertheless of interest to the wider research community and public.

Note: Supplementary information is available on the Nature Biotechnology website.


1. Stewart, C.N. Nat. Biotechnol. 21, 353-354 (2003) 2. Pusztai, A., Grant, G., Bardocz, S., Gelencser, E. & Hajos, G. Br. J. Nutr. 77, 933-945 (1997). 3. Richard, S., Moslemi, S., Sipahutar, H., Benachour, N. & Seralini, G.E. Environ. Health Perspect. 113, 716-720 (2005). 4. Rang, A., Linke, B. & Jansen, B. Eur. Food Res. Technol. 220, 438-443 (2005). 5. Wilusz, C.J., Wang, W. & Peltz, S.W. Genes Dev. 15, 2781-2785 (2001). 6. Hirotsune, S. Et Al. Nature 423, 91-96 (2003). 7. Windels, P., Taverniers, I., Depicker, A., Van Bockstaele, E. & De Loose, M. Eur. Food Res. Technol. 231, 107-112 (2001).


GM crops in Europe: how much value and for whom?

- Matty Demont, Koen Dillen, Erik Mathijs and Eric Tollens, Eurochoices, vol. 6(3), pp. 46-53, Dec. 2007



Who gains from genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe? We review the global impact literature and assess the potential value of GM crops for Europe and how this value is shared among stakeholders. The literature suggests that, on average, two thirds of the global benefits are shared 'downstream', i.e., among domestic and foreign farmers and consumers, while only one third is extracted 'upstream', i.e., by gene developers and seed suppliers. Can this global rule of thumb be extrapolated to the EU? We review studies on GM maize, sugar beet and oilseed rape in Spain, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the EU-25. The potential annual value of GM technologies for single Member States ranges from ¤0.1 million to ¤42 million, distributed according to the same rule of thumb. With a global annual value of ¤668 million, herbicide tolerance in sugar beet cultivation is the EU's most promising 'first-generation' GM technology The new Member States could also substantially benefit from GM crops. While the Czech Republic embraced GM maize in recent years, Hungary imposed a de facto ban on GM crops. By denying farmers access to potentially cost-reducing technologies, banning GM crops could be counterproductive for the future competitiveness of EU agriculture.


Peasants Storm Brazil Syngenta Farm

- Associated Press, Dec. 10, 2007


RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Activists stormed a Swiss-owned farm in northeastern Brazil on Monday to protest biotech crops and the killing of an activist during a similar protest at another farm earlier this year.

Joao Paulo Pereira, a coordinator of the peasants rights group Via Campesina, said hundreds of protesters overran the farm belong to Syngenta AG near the town of Cajazeiras, blocking access to workers, knocking down fences and destroying some greenhouses before leaving.

In a statement, Syngenta said about 80 protesters took part in the events and that none of its employees were at the site at the time: security personnel were told to leave the property in order to avoid any conflicts.

Pereira said the protest was part of the group's "Syngenta Out of Brazil" campaign and was timed to coincide with International Human Rights Day. The group is seeking to have Brazil eliminate genetically modified crops, which it believes harm small farmers and may prove unhealthy for human consumption.

He said the protest commemorated the death of activist Valmir Mota de Oliveira, killed during a protest at Syngenta farm in southern Brazil earlier this year.

Syngenta was created in 2000 when Novartis AG and AstraZeneca PLC merged their agricultural businesses. The company's Web site says that 60 percent of its corn and soybean seeds have genetically modified traits.


French Anti-GM Activist Bove Spared Jail Term

- Agence France Presse, Dec. 10, 2007


MILLAU, France - French farmer-activist Jose Bove was Monday spared a prison term on charges of ripping up genetically-modified crops, after a judge converted his four-month jail sentence to a fine.

Bove, the 54-year-old hero of France's anti-globalisation movement, was convicted and sentenced to jail in February on charges of destroying GM crops in the southern region of Haute-Garonne in July 2004.

But a judge on Monday converted Bove's sentence to a fine, as part of a standard review carried out for all short prison sentences in France. The amount of the fine was to be fixed later this month, Bove told reporters after the closed-door hearing.

The moustachioed sheep farmer, who shot to fame in 1999 after trashing a half-built McDonald's outlet in southern France, backs a moratorium on GM crops as part of his campaign against what he calls "malbouffe", or bad food.

Bove ran as a candidate of the anti-capitalist far-left in the May presidential election, gathering 1.3 percent of votes.

The farmer-activist told reporters he plans to launch a hunger strike from January 3 to protest at the French government's failure to decree a year-long moratorium on GM crops at an environmental summit in October.

The government suspended use of MON810, a brand of maize developed by the US agrochemical giant Monsanto and the only GM crop authorised in France, until February pending new legislation on the matter.

Bove's activism has already earned him three spells in prison, for the McDonald's incident in 1999, and in 2001 and 2003 for ripping up GM crops.

Bove turned his back on city life in the 1970s, setting up as a sheep farmer in the countryside near Millau. In 1987 he founded the radical Small Farmers Confederation to champion the cause of small producers, launching a crusade against fast-food and GM crops.


Biotech Holiday Gifts

- Andrew Apel, guest editor, AgBioView, Dec. 14, 2007


The holiday season marks an annual confluence of celebrations related to a vast assortment of creeds and faiths. Quite likely, a number of atheists will be seen celebrating this time of year as well.

What all these groups have most in common, aside from the time of year, is the practice of giving gifts.

The biggest problem with with giving gifts is selecting them. In light of the common interest of our readers, AgBioView would like to offer assistance in the selection process by showing where to find biotech gifts online.

One quick and easy solution, especially if your list of recipients is long, can be found at Cafe Press. (1) They offer a large selection of graphic designs, and after you make your choice, you can have the design imprinted on T-shirts, hats, bags, office supplies, stickers, and many other items. Some of the humorous designs are so obscure that they might be described as 'inside' jokes. One of them, for instance, will only be understood by a molecular biologist, or a biotech patent attorney, who is also an avid computer gamer. ("All your bases are belong to us.")

For those with an interest in graphic design but a much shorter recipient list, a DNA portrait might fit the bill. If you want the gift to be a surprise, it might require more advance planning than most gifts.

At DNA11 (2) the first step is selecting a color scheme for the final product. During the process, you also place an order for a DNA collection kit. After the kit arrives in the real world, you collect a cheek cell swab using the swab they provide.

Those are the easiest parts, for most people. For others, who must collect the DNA sample surreptitiously, DNA11 offers no advice on how to accomplish the task. This is likely on the advice of their attorneys.

However you get the cheek swab, you send the swab to DNA11, and they use the cell sample to develop the final product.

Those familiar with the art will recognize a DNA portrait as an application of gel electrophoresis, a procedure which sorts genes according to their length. A remarkable animation of the procedure, developed for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, can be found online. (3)

Whether your recipient list is long or short, the DNA Wooden Puzzle from Edmund Scientific (4) could fit the bill. It's merely a matter of how many you buy.

But, buyer beware -- this looks like it's suitable only for those who are either extraordinarily gifted, or not easily frustrated. The puzzle is rated at a level 8, which is considered 'demanding'. The object is to position four wooden cubes (six sides each) inside a rectangular frame (four relevant sides), so that each side of the rectangle has all four colors. The seller describes it as being "like a linear Rubix cube...only harder!"

Of course, no recipient list is complete if it doesn't include some youngsters. For them, the ideal gift may be the DNA Wizard, being offered through the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). (5) It's likely on sale elsewhere, as well.

The product is billed as correct for ages 8 and up, which implies that adventurous adults are eligible for this gift. Spectrum, the IEEE magazine, calls it "by far the most ambitious of all the kits and is probably best suited for a teen with close adult supervision." Presumably, the adult supervision will prevent genetically modified cats from overrunning the neighborhood, challenging human dominance of the planet, etc.

Anyway, the kit makes it possible to build a model DNA double helix, to extract DNA from fruit, and to do actual genetic engineering (sorry, no cats involved) by introducing a jellyfish gene into bacteria to make them glow.

If none of the above strike your fancy, or don't impress you as striking another's fancy, there's the final option: The DNA Store. (6) This place has ambitions. It claims to have "[t]he largest selection of DNA products on one site!", and -- astonishingly -- to be "[t]he place where the secret of life is stored".

The second claim may be dubious, but the range of products available suggests the first claim may be true. They offer mouse pads, Watson & Crick bobbleheads, DNA Road Signs (what do they express?), a DNA Toy (no comment), money clips, floor and table lamps, mugs, clocks, and much more. Your faithful editor does not have the patience to review something so comprehensive, and likely, faithful readers would not have the patience to read such a review.

Happy Holidays!

- From the AgBioView Crew (which is orders of magnitude smaller than the antis prefer to believe). (7)



(1) http://www.cafepress.com/buy/dna?CMP=KNC-G-LB-MED&ovchn=GGL&ovcpn=Health+and+Medicine+Basic&ovcrn=sr2LB1go21529sb5521pi10ai1768+DNA+gifts&ovtac=PPC&SR=sr2LB1go21529sb5521pi10ai1768

(2) http://www.dna11.com/

(3) http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/units/biotech/gel/

(4) http://scientificsonline.com/product.asp?pn=3081016&sid=google&cm_mmc=google-_-cpc-_-edmu-_-dnagifts&bhcd2=1197395294

(5) http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/print/2133

(6) http://www.thednastore.com/index.html

(7) None of the commercial enterprises discussed in this article have provided any financial support to the AgBioWorld Foundation. You can make up for this omission. Simply visit http://www.agbioworld.org and make a gift online.

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