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December 21, 2007


EU may open door; Saving dairy technology; Tackling trade barriers


* EU may open door for US rice
* Corn Imports Force Mexico GMO Debate
* Ukraine adopts biosafety law
* Don't look for biotech wheat
* USGC tackles biotech trade barriers
* Organic milk production footprint
* Farmers want to save dairy technology
* How plants transport sugars
* New species hidden in plain sight


EU decision on GMO testing opens door for U.S. rice

- Lisa Shumaker, Reuters, Dec. 20, 2007


CHICAGO - A decision to stop testing U.S. rice for genetically modified traits when it arrives at its destination should help restore trade with the European Union, which has virtually stopped since August 2006, said U.S. rice traders on Thursday.

The EU Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal Health made the decision on on Thursday and it could take effect as early as mid-January. [ID:nL20887446]

"It is a good sign. There's been a bit of a pickup in shipments going there," said Neauman Coleman, an analyst and rice broker in Brinkley, Arkansas. "It's all proven to be GMO free. This is another positive step."

The discovery in August 2006 of the LibertyLink trait, developed by Bayer CropScience, a division of Bayer (BAYG.DE: Quote, Profile, Research), in commercial supplies triggered a disaster for the U.S. rice industry.

The industry quickly moved to stop planting of the varieties identified as having the GMO trait, which resulted in less than 0.5 percent of this year's crop being affected, according to USA Rice Federation, a trade organization.

"The decision opens the door," said David Coia, spokesman for USA Rice. "Now, another layer of work begins where we have to begin to rebuild the market. This certainly helps tremendously."

A U.S. government investigation was unable to determine how the biotech rice entered the commercial supply chain. The GMO strain has gotten U.S. approval but no GMO rice is authorized for import or sale in the 25-member European Union.


Most countries allow exporters to test the rice for GMO traits before it leaves port. The EU's requirement to test at destination made sales extremely risky for sellers.

If the rice tested positive, they would encounter hefty charges

Before the incident, the European Union bought about 282,000 tonnes of U.S. rice in the 2005/06 marketing year. Exports fell to 50,000 tonnes in 2006/07.

"It's been a black cloud over the market for the past year and a half," said Ed Taylor, an analyst with Firstgrain.com, a market advisory service.

"It's a big deal," he said. "It means you no longer have the risk if you ship it over there of having it rejected once it gets there."


Duty-Free US Corn Imports Force Mexico GMO Debate

- Mica Rosenberg, Reuters via Planet Ark, Dec. 21, 2007


SAN SALVADOR EL SECO, Mexico - Cheap US corn will flood into Mexico in January when trade barriers are lifted, pitting local farmers against each other over how to protect the crop that has fed Mexico for thousands of years.

Mexico is to scrap import duties of US corn on Jan. 1, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, in a move that will allow the world's No. 1 producer to expand its market in the country that claims to have discovered corn.

Mexican growers are debating whether to turn to genetically modified strains of corn to resist the US challenge, or to mechanize production but keep local corn strains GMO-free.

Either way, millions of Mexican farmers, many of them living just above subsistence, will struggle to compete with heavily subsidized US corn despite high international corn prices.

"All the inequalities leave us unprepared for the opening," said Carlos Salazar the head of a national corn growers' association who works with farmers in the eastern town of San Salvador El Seco, where flat fields of corn and cactus stretch for miles below three snow-capped volcanoes.

Corn tariffs have gradually been phased out since the trade deal was implemented in 1994, and imports of yellow corn from the United States to Mexico have skyrocketed by about 240 percent compared to the decade before NAFTA. Mexico imported over 7 million tonnes of US yellow corn in 2006.

Imported yellow corn, mostly used for animal feed, now accounts for close to 35 percent of local consumption and is likely to increase next year.

The biggest worry for Mexican farmers is that zero barriers could give US producers incentives to grow more white corn, Mexico's principal crop, which is used to make tortillas and other famed foods.


Those who want to introduce bioengineered corn in Mexico appear to be gaining an upper hand.

A law to allow experimental planting of GMO strains in northern Mexico was passed two years ago but was never signed. Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas said this week the law could go into effect in a matter of weeks.

"We don't want to be behind. We have to start testing now," said Catalino Flores, a geneticist working with Salazar's organization in San Salvador El Seco.

Corn yields in the United States can be more than three times those in Mexico, according to Mexican growers.

"There will be drought resistant corn in 5 to 10 years. If you don't plant something like that when everyone else is, you'll be down the drain," Flores said.

About half of US yellow corn sent to Mexico comes from genetically modified seeds. Mexico's agriculture minister reckons GMO seeds smuggled in from the United States are already being planted in northern Mexican states.

But some farmers worry introducing that GMO seeds could contaminate hundreds of wild blue, red and multicolored corn varieties planted for centuries in Mexico.

"The farmers who want to plant transgenic corn are irresponsible, they don't care if the are putting the genetic heritage of Mexico at risk," said Victor Suarez head of a small farmers' group that wants keep trade protections for corn and beans.

The ancient Maya, who lived in southern Mexico over 1,000 years ago, believed the gods made men from maize. The plant was adopted over 500 years ago by Spanish conquerors and spread to the rest of the world.

However the debate plays out, the radical changes to the landscape of rural Mexico are already well underway.

Some 2 million farm jobs have been lost since NAFTA was signed, according to Mexico's National Employment Survey. Many farmers around San Salvador El Seco have left the land and emigrated.

"Now we are saving a lot of time but we are also losing a lot of jobs," said Martin Rodriguez, 57, marveling at a new machine recently brought to San Salvador El Seco that can harvest in one day what it would take a dozen workers two weeks to pick.


Ukraine adopts law on biosafety in creating, testing, transporting and using GM organisms

- Black Sea Biotechnology Association (press release) via Seedquest, Dec. 21, 2007


Ukraine has adopted its Law «On the State System of Biosafety in Creating, Testing, Transporting and Using Genetically-Modified Organisms», which regulates relations between executive authorities, manufacturers, vendors (suppliers), developers, researchers, scholars and consumers of genetically-modified organisms and products manufactured by technologies envisaging their development, creation, testing, study, transportation, import, export, marketing, discharge to the environment and use of genetically modified organisms in the Ukraine, and ensuring biological and genetic safety. The Law shall not apply to humans, tissues and individual cells being part of a human body. The text in the Ukrainian, English (informal translation), and Russian (informal translation) languages is available.

Since November 1st, 2007 Ukraine also enforced the Government's Decree #985 from August 1st, 2007 «On Matters Related to the Circulation of Food Products Containing Genetically Modified Organisms and/or Microorganisms», which enacts compulsory labeling of such products and bans "import, manufacturing, and sales of children's food products containing genetically modified organisms and/or microorganisms". According to the text of the resolution such measures are taken "...in order to bring Ukrainian laws into compliance with the standards of the European Union".


Guest ed. note: The text of the law can be found at http://www.bsbanet.org/ukraine.php?ln=en


Don't look for biotech wheat anytime soon

- Dale Hildebrant, Farm & Ranch Guide, Dec. 20, 2007


GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Although there is the possibility of great economic return for wheat producers from the development of biotech wheat, don't expect to see that option available anytime soon. That was the basic message Dr. Bill Wilson brought to those attending the Prairie Grains Conference in Grand Forks on Dec. 13.

Wilson, a professor of Agricultural Economics at North Dakota State University who has done extensive research in cereal grains, expects the first use of biotech wheat will probably come from a country like Australia, where drought is a regular occurrence. Work is being conducted there on biotech wheat with drought resistance. In fact, they are in their second year of field trials in the province of Victoria and have spent around $30 million in GM (genetically modified) wheat research in the area of drought resistance.

"In some of those areas they probably have drought occurrences for two years in a five-year period," Wilson said. "So it could very well be that GM wheat in Australia will be released prior to the release in other parts of the world, and in fact it could be a number of years before it's acceptance in other areas."

According to Wilson, work in biotech wheat in the U.S. is being focused in three areas - Roundup Ready wheat, Fusarium resistant wheat, and drought resistant wheat. However, none of those research efforts are even close to being ready for the market place.

One of the reasons for the slow pace of biotech research work in wheat is the large costs involved and the shrinking acreages planted to wheat, thereby making it more difficult to recoup the research expenses. Wilson figures that at this time, researchers in the U.S. have expended more than $62 million for biotech Fusarium resistant wheat and $41 million in Roundup Ready wheat, both of which are still in the developmental stage.

There is also reluctance to start using GM wheat unless the entire list of end users agree to use it, Wilson noted.

"They are deathly afraid, I believe, about somebody using GM ingredients and a branded company product not using GM ingredients," he said.

Wilson also pointed to a basic lack of understanding regarding GM wheat among various segments of the wheat industry, including end users. He told of attending a meeting recently where GM wheat was discussed and most of those users had never heard of terms like stacked traits, let alone things like smart stack.

"I was pretty appalled at the lack of understanding by these companies about biotech issues," he said. "My students are more understanding; most of you in this audience are more knowledgeable than them.

"Not a single one of them recognizes the way that GM technology will save growers money," he continued. "They will spend all kinds of money trying to streamline their supply chains and reduce their logistical costs. But give a farmer a chance to save 25 to 30 cents a bushel - they don't even acknowledge that."

Some of them, however, Wilson noted, are beginning to realize that we have a severe lack of investment in small grain technology, noting that all of the biotech work in small grains doesn't hold a candle to what has been expended in corn and soybean biotech research. But even though they realize technology in this area is lacking, they don't seem to be aware of the need for them to invest in this technology.

Wilson is concerned that if something isn't done soon to advance GM wheat in the U.S., wheat may soon be thought of as a specialty crop with exclusive producer contracts calling for certain varieties similar to the way the barley industry has evolved.

Finally, Wilson noted, any segregation and traceability program that becomes necessary in the U.S. because of GM wheat will need to be initiated by the buyers.

"Sellers can't do that, farmers can't do that, the trade associations can't do that," he said. "It's the end user who has to define the protocols of the product he wants to buy of specified varieties and specified traits."

In summary, Wilson doesn't expect the acceptance of GM wheat in the near future. But grower groups can advance the process by maintaining a dialogue with the various aspects of the wheat industry, he said. This will help them to identify the needs of growers and how GM wheat can fill those needs. However, it must be emphasized to the those end users that ultimately the buyers of wheat will see the most benefit from GM wheat.


USGC tackles biotech trade barriers

- Southwest Farm Press, Dec. 20, 2007


One of the most prominent, reoccurring trade barriers impacting U.S. agricultural exports is modern biotechnology, according to Ken Hobbie, U.S. Grains Council president and CEO. According to research, food and feed derived from genetically enhanced seeds are becoming increasingly accepted as safe by U.S. consumers. However, globally, biotechnology still causes fear, which Hobbie believes is a product of uncertainty.

"A lack of easily accessible science-based information available in one location is one of the primary reasons, biotechnology in agriculture is still worrisome to many consumers, as well as international regulators," said Hobbie, adding that agricultural biotechnology is not a new concept and has been available commercially since 1995. "This fear is perpetuated to an even greater extent by activists spreading propaganda that is based on zero science. What we have here is the misinformed informing the uniformed, which causes a great deal of unnecessary anxiety over agricultural biotechnology and impacts the sales of U.S. feed grains and other commodities, which are the safest and most abundant out there."

To confront the issues head on, the Council is doing what they do best, according to Hobbie - Sharing information. The Council has created a unique multimedia and interactive CD-ROM, now available on the Council's Web site, to provide science-based information internationally and domestically. This most recent educational tool is geared to inform and separate fact from fiction. The CD also explains the history of agricultural biotechnology and how it is used today and why biotechnology is important to the livelihood of U.S. farmers and to providing an ample food and feed supply to consumers worldwide.

The CD is available on the Council's Biotechnology Resource Center, which can be found at www.grains.org. Hobbie said though the web-based version, broader distribution will be available overseas and domestically.

"Hopefully this will be a very important step to addressing many of the current concerns pertaining to agricultural biotechnology and serve as an interactive tool that can educate international agricultural biotechnology regulators," said Hobbie.


Guest ed. note: For more information, visit http://brc.grains.org/grains/page.ww?section=Education+Center&name=Learn+About+Agricultural+Biotechnology


Organic milk production leaves big footprint

- Jon B. Wheeler, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Dec. 19, 2007


It amazes me to see the abundance of intellectual capital all around me, yet ignorance and emotion are allowed to rule and dictate. Without reason, reflection or rigor, consumers learn to demand products they never knew they wanted, let alone needed.

Example: Organic milk production. Without definition or description we talk about being "green" and "environmentally friendly." Food marketers continue to tell us that organic is better for the environment and safer and healthier for the consumer.

The USDA has made it clear that organic milk is neither safer nor healthier than conventional milk. And real world agriculture practices make it absolutely clear that organic agriculture is a burden on the environment and far worse than conventional agriculture and yet many will pay more money for a good feeling.

How can this be so? How can consumers be so foolish as to pay more money for exactly the same product? Consider the facts:

All milk is produced naturally by cows. Milk is produced by animals as part of a natural biological process. All milk has hormones. It is an undisputed fact that all milk contains scores of hormones, the natural consequence of being produced by a mammal.

There are a few simple things to remember when you are standing in front of the dairy case.

All milk is subjected to the same rigorous testing before it can be sold. The tests ensure that all milk is pesticide and antibiotic free. All milk is rbST free, as cows supplemented with rbST produce milk without rbST in it.

Why then is there so much confusion in the dairy case?

The confusion you see in the dairy case is the result of the retailers wanting more of the consumer's money through false and misleading advertising. Simply put, our ignorance comes at a cost. It costs the consumer, it costs the family farmer and it costs the environment. By removing approved technologies from the farm in the name of consumer demand, the marketers of organic and organic light products are causing increased environmental challenges.

Organic milk production leaves a larger environmental footprint because it requires 80 percent more land than conventional milk production. Nearly 20 percent more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere to produce organic milk than to produce conventional milk when measured on a gallon-to-gallon basis. Finally, organic milk production produces almost double the amount of other by-products that can lead to acidification of soil and pollution of water sources.

Without the use of modern technology, the cost of production increases as production decreases and consumer prices rise, imports of foreign food escalate to meet domestic demand, and the assurance of food security and safety falter. This circle of cost continues despite the fact that all milk is milk and the technologies exist to address many of these challenges.

The major grocery chains are pulling the wool over our eyes and profiting at the consumer's and farmer's expense. Do we really want to pay more for something that is no different except for the claim on a label? Do we want to allow the retailer to profit from our ignorance?

We need to take the time to learn the truth and stop blindly believing what the wolf is saying while his hand is deep into our pockets. And shame on us for choosing emotion over facts when making decisions.

Stop ignorance in this country. Take the time to educate yourself when it affects your life, your future and your country. Check out www.milkismilk.com

Jon Wheeler is a dairy farm manager in Sunnyside.


Farmers form group to save dairy technology

- Andrea Johnson, Iowa Farmer Today, Dec. 21, 2007


Greg Jans, a dairy producer from Grove City, Minn., took the podium at the recent Midwest Dairy Expo to talk about a new organization.

Jans talked to several hundred dairy farmers Dec. 4 about American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (AFACT).

"It is our intent to raise our voice on behalf of producers to protect our interests and the interests of consumers," Jans said. "We support the choice of producers to use technologies."

AFACT was formed because producers are finding fewer markets that will take milk from cows given recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rbST.

In an article from the San Francisco Chronicle dated March 25, 2007, the CEO of California Dairies Inc., Richard Cotta, was quoted. Cotta said the nation's second largest dairy cooperative asked its members not to use rbST.

If the hormone was given to cows, the milk would have to be segregated and farmers would have to pay a surcharge.

Similar actions are occurring throughout the United States.

The Upper Midwest is one region of the United States that still uses rbST.

"The producers in those areas have tried to fight it, but they didn't know how to fight it," Jans said.

AFACT has now taken on the challenge.

According to the Web site rbST Facts, rbST is also known as bST, bGH, rbGH, recombinant bovine growth hormone and Posilac.

"The clinical name for the naturally occurring protein hormone produced in the pituitary glands of all cattle is 'bovine somatotropin,'" according to www.rbstfacts.org. "Human beings have learned how to reproduce an exact copy of this substance by means of recombinant DNA technologies."

The name "Posilac" was trademarked by Monsanto Inc. Monsanto is the only company approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to manufacture and sell rbST in the United States.

rbSTFacts.org was developed as a collaborative project by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and the Washington Dairy Products Commission (WDPC), a Washington state agency.

Jans became involved in AFACT in early fall 2007.

As vice president of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, Jans was contacted by producers worried about the potential loss of rbST technology.

With support from industry, a small group of dairy leader farmers met in Chicago to create AFACT. Several producer organizations have endorsed the organization, including the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, Minnesota Milk Producers Association and the Kansas Dairy Association.

"We thought, as producers, this would probably be more effective if it actually came from a producer-led effort, and not industry-led," Jans said. "We don't want to just focus on rbST. There is more to it than that."

Organizers worry that if rbST is not available, other approved technologies could also be lost.

They fear that if rbST is taken away, various organizations will take away producer animal housing and handling rights, use of antibiotics, synchronization technologies, feed additives and GMO crops.

Jans hopes other farmer organizations and individuals will join in supporting AFACT.

"We are promoting a product that is safe and a good technology to help the dairy farmer," Jans said. "rbST has been proven safe, and it's been available for 14 years. There's never been a safety issue with it. There's no difference in the milk."

AFACT members are gearing their educational campaign to consumers, processors, retailers and producers.

"AFACT is doing a lot of letter writing, e-mailing and trying to work with processors, trying to get the facts to them. We want to tell them, 'Don't be so quick to say you're going to provide rbST-free milk,'" Jans said. "In the Midwest, we have the benefit that as producers we haven't been asked not to produce it anymore. We're one of the few parts of the U.S. that still has the availability of rbST."

AFACT is setting up a Web site to provide more information on the new organization.


Research on how plants transport sugars could be of critical importance in era of global warming

- Krishna Ramanujan, Cornell University, Dec. 20, 2007


How do many plants ship sugars from their leaves to flowers, roots, fruits and other parts of their structure? Using genetic engineering techniques, Cornell researchers have finally proven a long-standing theory of how this occurs.

The findings not only deepen understanding of basic plant biology but could one day allow researchers to genetically engineer plants with increased photosynthetic rates, yields and carbon dioxide intake. This might be critically important in an era of climate change.

The theory of transporting sugar, the polymer trap model, was first proposed in 1991 by Robert Turgeon, Cornell professor of plant biology. He is also the senior author of the latest research published in the Dec. 4 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. Ashlee McCaskill, Ph.D. '07, who worked in Turgeon's lab, is the paper's lead author.

Turgeon's theory suggested that as sucrose, a form of sugar, accumulates in leaves as a product of photosynthesis, it diffuses into the plant's tubelike transport tissue, called phloem, along with other nutrients to move to other areas of the plant. Once in the phloem, small molecules of sucrose polymerize, or combine, to form larger, more complex sugars, which become too large to flow back into the leaf. The polymerized sugars are then forced to move away from the leaf to parts of the plant where they may be used or stored.

To prove the theory, Turgeon and McCaskill genetically engineered a plant closely related to a member of the figwort family, purple mullein (Verbascum phoeneceum L.), so that two genes involved with polymerizing sucrose into larger molecules were silenced. When they did so, sugars backed up in the leaves.

In normal plants, when sugars (made from water and carbon dioxide during photosynthesis) accumulate in the leaves, photosynthesis slows down, and the plant does not take in as much carbon dioxide from the air. Likewise, when the sugars move out of the leaves, the rate of photosynthesis and carbon intake increases, McCaskill said.

"If we could increase the plant's phloem-loading rate, the potential would be to increase photosynthetic rate and yield, but that is theoretical right now," said McCaskill.

A 2006 article in the journal Science, McCaskill said, showed that when atmospheric carbon dioxide increases, plants do not take in the excess due to a series of feedback loops that constrain the plant.

"Phloem loading is one of these feedbacks that have an effect on the ability of plants to intake carbon dioxide at the highest level," said McCaskill. Carbon dioxide, which is increasing in the Earth's atmosphere, is the major greenhouse gas that traps heat and warms the planet, McCaskill noted.


More evidence for new species hidden in plain sight

- PhysOrg.com, Dec. 21, 2007


Two articles published today in the online open access journals BMC Evolutionary Biology and BMC Biology provide further evidence that we have hugely underestimated the number of species with which we share our planet. Today sophisticated genetic techniques mean that superficially identical animals previously classed as members of a single species, including the frogs and giraffes in these studies, could in fact come from several distinct 'cryptic' species.

In the Upper Amazon, Kathryn Elmer and Stephen Lougheed working at Queen's University, Kingston, Canada teamed up with José Dávila from Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos, Cuidad Real, Spain to investigate the terrestrial leaflitter frog (Eleutherodactylus ockendeni) at 13 locations across Ecuador.

Looking at the frogs' mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, the researchers found three distinct species, which look very much alike. These species have distinct geographic distributions, but these don't correspond to modern landscape barriers. Coupled with phylogenetic analyses, this suggests they diverged before the Ecuadorean Andes arose, in the Miocene period over 5.3 million years ago.

"Our research coupled with other studies suggests that species richness in the upper Amazon is drastically underestimated by current inventories based on morphospecies," say the authors.

And in Africa, an interdisciplinary team from the University of California, Los Angeles, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, and the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya has found that there may be more to the giraffe than meets the eye, too.

Their analysis of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA shows at least six genealogically distinct lineages of giraffe in Africa, with little evidence of interbreeding between them. Further divisions within these groups mean that in total the researchers have spotted 11 genetically distinct populations.

"Such extreme genetic subdivision within a large vertebrate with high dispersal capabilities is unprecedented and exceeds that of any other large African mammal," says graduate student David Brown, first author of the study. The researchers estimate that the giraffe populations they surveyed have been genetically distinct for between 0.13 and 1.62 million years. The findings have serious implications for giraffe conservation because some among these subgroups have as few as 100 members, making them highly endangered - if not yet officially recognised - species.


Guest ed. note: Assigning species status on the basis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) raises interesting questions. For instance, there's quite a bit of variation in human mtDNA. Much of that correlates with geographic or ethnic origin. See, http://www.mitomap.org/report.html and http://www.mitomap.org/cgi-bin/tbl5gen.pl. Do we actually consist of different species? Or is this merely an attempt to inflate the number of animal species so that more of them can be considered "highly endangered?" Are some of our species endangered, and what should we do about it?

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