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Date:

January 28, 2008

Subject:

EU Hostility Sends BASF Packing; India May Surge Ahead; Bi-directional dual promoter for transgene expression

 

* US scores big sale of corn to Spain
* BASF expands activities in Asia Pacific
* ASA Supports USG on WTO Ruling against EU
* What goes around: EU trade barriers
* Europe's Hostility Runs Afoul of Science, WTO
* Political Response to Biofortified Crops
* Ministers will seek labeling in Ukraine
* Vietnam: Draft regulations for field trials
* China: Rice seeds still await go-ahead
* India may turn producer of GM rice, vegetables
* Bt cotton acreage up 29% in TN
* Patent: Bidirectional Dual Promoter Complex
* HIV vaccine from tomatoes
* GM Mosquitoes Could Wipe Out Dengue Fever
* NAS Recognizes Monsanto Officer for Biotech
* Video: Raccoons love sweet corn -- Bt or not
* Video: 10,000 Years of Crop Improvement

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United States scores big sale of corn to Spain

- Elton Robinson, Delta Farm Press, Jan. 23, 2008

http://deltafarmpress.com/news/sale-spain-0108/

According to USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, the United States sold 2.5 million bushels of corn to Spain in January, the first sale of this magnitude to Spain since 1998-99.

The U.S. Grains Council says the shipment reflects an easing of the EU policy on genetically modified organisms, as well as a shortage of feed grains in the region.

In October 2007, importers in Europe indicated a need for 17 million to 18 million metric tons of feed grains in 2008. "That is how bad things are in Europe, due to the ongoing drought," said Chris Corry, U.S. Grains Council director of international operations.

The shipments come on the heels of a USGC trade delegation visit to Spain and other countries in December 2007, which focused on educating producers, feed millers and processors on the safety and quality of feed grains derived from genetically enhanced seeds.

"Because the tight supply of feed grains has feed millers and producers in a severe price squeeze, the timing is right to try and educate the European Union's grain industry about biotechnology and elicit their support in addressing policy," said Dale Artho, U.S. Grains Council chairman.

"They were especially receptive to the idea of relaxing the EU's GMO policies for U.S. corn. We discussed how corn with plant technology attributes could be utilized in their milling process for feed export markets and how that would reduce the pressure on their domestic markets."

Artho said Spain's purchase of U.S. corn is a good sign that the Council's education efforts are working and gives U.S. producers reason to be optimistic about the potential to export genetically enhanced feed grains to Europe.

Kurt Shultz, U.S. Grains Council director for the Mediterranean and Africa, reported that Spain imported more than 588,100 metric tons (23.1 million bushels) of sorghum from Sept. 1, 2006, through Aug. 9, 2007 - nearly 10 times that country's sorghum imports for the same period a year ago.

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BASF expands GM activities in competitive Asia Pacific

- Laura Crowley, NutraIngredients.com, Jan. 24, 2008

http://www.nutraingredients.com/news/ng.asp?n=82758-basf-nibs-gm-crops-competitiveness

European restrictions on genetically modified (GM) crops have driven BASF Plant Science to intensify biotech cooperation activities in Asia Pacific with an agreement with China's National Institute of Biological Sciences (NIBS). The cooperation and licensing agreement in biotechnology is the chemical company's first in China, and focuses on increasing yield in staple crops such as corn, soybeans and rice through genetic modification.

"Asia is emerging as a key player in plant biotechnology both in research and cultivation and we are striving to intensify partnerships in this dynamic region. Europe, on the contrary, is losing its competitiveness due to slow and contradictory political decisions," said Hans Kast, President and CEO of BASF Plant Science.

NIBS has identified a family of genes that have been found to increase crop yield for corn, soybeans and rice. However, according to Mette Johansson, BASF manager of communications, it is likely the genes can be transferred into a range of crops.

"We are disappointed by political developments in Europe," Johansson told FoodNavigator.com.

Last year, France declared a moriatum on the cultivation of GM crops, which President Sarkozy has now extended amid health concerns.

Austria enforced a ban on the import and processing of Monsanto's MON810 and Bayer's T25 maize in June 1999, and the Commission has been debating whether to force the country to lift its restrictions since 2005. Also, this week, there will be a vote in Germany on laws surrounding the cultivation of GM crops, Johansson said.

She continued: "Politicians are making is more and more difficult for farmers to grow these products. Furthermore, Europe has a very high quality of researchers and we are concerned about how these political decisions will affect this standard, as research will only continue if the new products will be used.

Meanwhile, Asia Pacific is getting more competitive, offering a more interesting challenge for biotech research.

"NIBS was established in 2003 to advance the frontier of basic research in life sciences in China," said Professor Deng Xing Wang, plant biologist co-director at NIBS.

"We are very proud that our efforts in this area have lead to groundbreaking results in a little more than four years. Discoveries in yield increase like those made by NIBS will help meet booming worldwide demand for food and drink and feed."

Increasing yield in staple crops is imperative for countries such as China, according to the two organisations, as rising standards of living has caused meat consumption to increase by 300 per cent in the past 20 years, with the demand for animal feed rising accordingly.

At the same time, factors such as urbanisation are reducing the amount of arable land in Asia.

Under the agreement, BASF obtains exclusive rights to develop and commercialise transgenic crops with the discovered genes outside China. NIBS retains the right to market crops in China.

Financial details of the agreement have not been disclosed.

This is the second Asia Pacific union BASF has entered in the past few months. In October, it signed a cooperation and licensing agreement in South Korea, which focused on plant traits to increase yield and improve stress tolerance in major crops.

Previously, it also began a high-yield wheat project with the Australian Molecular Plant Breeding Cooperative Research Centre.

Johansson said the company is open to signing more agreements in Asia. She said: "We are definitely keeping an eye on Asia and any interesting developments in R&D."

While BASF is increasing its global presence and activities in Asia Pacific, it insists it has no plans as yet to refocus on these other countries and all European commitments will remain.

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Guest ed. note: See also, "BASF Plant Science and National Institute of Biological Sciences,Beijing enter cooperation and li-cense agreement" (joint press release), BASF Plant Science and the National Institute of Biological Sciences, Beijing (NIBS), Jan. 24, 2007, http://www.nibs.ac.cn/english/index.php?act=view&id=397

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ASA Supports USG on WTO Ruling against the EU on Biotechnology

- American Soybean Association (press release), Jan. 24, 2008

http://www.soygrowers.com/newsroom/releases/2008_releases/r012408.htm

Saint Louis, Missouri... The American Soybean Association (ASA) supports the recent decision by the United States government to give the European Union (EU) more time to implement a science-based approval system for biotech-derived agricultural products, but warns of dire consequences for European livestock industries if the EU doesn't speed up its approval process.

"ASA supports the decision of U.S. trade officials to temporarily suspend action to withdraw concessions for the failures of the European Union to bring its biotech approval process into compliance with the WTO panel ruling," said ASA First Vice President Johnny Dodson, a soybean producer from Halls, Tenn., who is the Chair of ASA's Biotechnology Working Group.

In May 2003, the United States filed a World Trade Organization (WTO) case against the EU's failure to implement a timely, science-based approval system for food and feed products enhanced through biotechnology. Numerous other countries, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Uruguay joined the United States in the complaint because they also want to ensure that science-based determinations are applied to regulatory decisions. On September 29, 2006, the WTO ruled the EU had failed to meet its WTO obligations of implementing a timely, science-based system for the approval of biotech-enhanced agricultural products. The decision finalized a preliminary WTO ruling made in February 2006.

"ASA has been in close contact with the U.S. Trade Representative urging this course of action," Dodson said. "This is only a temporary suspension to allow the EU to demonstrate through action that it is making its system timely, and that decisions are being made on the basis of science, not politics."

The continuing failure of the EU to bring its biotech approval system into compliance not only will result in massive retaliation on EU exports to the U.S. market, but also will result in devastating consequences for the EU livestock and feed industries that are dependent on imported oilseeds and feedstuffs.

The EU's own agriculture department (DG Agriculture) produced a report in July 2007 that warned of the potential damage to the EU livestock and poultry industries unless its biotech approval process is speeded up. Numerous EU stakeholders, such as FEFAC, the European feed association, have campaigned strongly on this issue, pointing out the damage that could be caused if the EU is legally barred from importing crops already approved elsewhere but have not received European approval.

"We hope the EU will respond quickly and positively to this latest gesture from the United States," Dodson said.

Currently, Bayer's LibertyLink® soybean (LLS) and Monsanto's Roundup RReady2Yield™ (RR2Y) soybean have been fully approved for cultivation in the U.S., and are going through the EU approval process. These soybean varieties, along with Pioneer's Optimum® GAT® soybean (also going through the EU approval system) are targeted for commercialization in the U.S. in the spring of 2009.

"These three varieties are only the start," Dodson said. "Over the next 10 years or so there are likely to be more than 20 other varieties coming forward for commercialization. To avoid disruption of trade and resulting negative impacts on EU livestock production, the EU and its Member States need to provide timely and science-based approval of these soybean events."

The EU process is at least a year behind the U.S. and many other countries, such as China and Japan. It is an intolerable situation that must be rectified to allow trade to continue uninterrupted. So far, despite tremendous efforts by the European feed industry, farmers, the biotechnology industry and U.S. soybean growers, Europe's politicians have yet to wake up and see the huge crisis developing around them.

"Applications for both RR2Y and LLS in other major markets such as Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Mexico and others either already have been approved by regulatory authorities or are moving ahead in a timely manner," Dodson said. "It is the EU process that is out of step with the rest of the world, and as such, does a disservice not only to the EU farm industry, but also to consumers who can scarcely be blamed for being confused when the EU's own scientists say a product is safe, but politicians hesitate over whether or not to agree with the scientific assessment."

With a full pipeline of new soybean events making their way toward commercialization over the coming years, ASA formed a Biotech Working Group in 2007 to provide a forum for U.S. soybean organizations to consult with biotechnology companies on their commercialization, domestic and international regulatory approvals status, and stewardship plans. ASA's goals are to bring these new soy technologies to farmers just as quickly as possible, while at the same time safeguarding important export markets. To gain support among industry stakeholders, ASA has also been conducting advocacy missions to the EU to educate and motivate key livestock, feed industry, EU and Member State officials about the soy events now being developed.

"Some EU officials and Member States are finally beginning to speak out publicly against the EU's ill-functioning biotech approval system," Dodson said. "ASA's Biotech Working Group is serving an important function because we are finding stakeholders and officials that are very unaware of the issue and its possible consequences for the European feed and livestock industries. They have expressed appreciation for the briefings and asked for the continued support of U.S. soybean growers."

ASA is the policy advocate and collective voice of its 22,000 producer-members on domestic and international issues of importance to all U.S. soybean farmers.

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Guest ed. note: See also, "ASA warns GM ban retaliation," Alex McNally, FoodNavigator.com, Jan. 28, 2008, http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/news/ng.asp?n=82837&m=1FNU128&c=fnpawfxjejkxkfl

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What goes around

- JoAnn Alumbaugh, Farms.com, Jan. 22, 2008

http://www.farms.com/swine/freecommentary.asp?commentaryid=5554 FARMS.com

I just returned from Berlin, where I attended a meeting of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. We heard from the EU Commissioner of Agriculture, Mariann Fischer Boel, who gave a very different message from the one I heard two years ago.

The countries that make up the European Union have some of the same challenges as we do in North America, especially the fact that production of biofuels is tightening the availability of feed grains for livestock producers and food manufacturers. That means the EU needs to import more grains, but because officials there have taken such a strong stand against genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), they are now forced to back-track.

Two years ago, Fisher Boel came out firmly against GMOs. At that time, she said European consumers didn't want these products, but it appeared to be more of an artificial trade barrier than anything else. Now, however, she says if GMOs are approved by the EU's Food Safety Administration (FSA), then it means those products have proven they are not damaging to human health or the environment. Hence, it will be possible to import needed feed grains from North America.

"We have food authorities in the FSA with the best scientific knowledge available," she told us in a press conference last Thursday. "GMO products will be labeled as GMO, or as having GMO ingredients, so consumers can decide."

"The increase in food prices is cause for consternation," Fischer Boel continued, "but the commission acted quickly by abolishing set-aside. This will put another 6-7% of land into production. The reasons for the increase are structural: There is increased consumption of white meat (pork and chicken) in India and China, and more feed grains are being used in the United States to produce ethanol (though only about 2% of cereal production in the EU is used for ethanol).

"We need the first generation of biofuels, but we need to invest heavily in second generation research."

Basically, this was a subtle way of telling us that the earlier denial of GMO products was nothing more than a trade barrier, because now that the EU needs more grain, it's all right to import these products. The problem will be persuading European consumers that GMOs are safe, when the government has denied this fact in the past.

In a follow-up press conference for just IFAJ members, Fischer Boel admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that GMOs are a political hot potato, but she hopes future decisions are based on science. That is a big step forward from the EU politics of the past, and represents a more open approach to trade.

The EU recognizes the importance of continuing the World Trade Organization talks, and Fischer Boel sounds ready to come to the table regarding fewer subsidies. However, she believes that even without a WTO agreement, "it would be possible" to extend trade promotion authority, which is just as important.

No doubt about it, the EU is fortunate to have someone like Fischer Boel as its representative. Besides the fact that she is obviously willing to change her point of view to the better, she is also intelligent, articulate and truly has the best interest of EU farmers in mind. In fact, her husband is a farmer, so any initiatives she might suggest will likely need to pass muster at home as well.

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Europe's Continued Hostility to GM Crops Runs Afoul of Science, WTO

- Gregory Conko and Henry I. Miller, World Politics Review via Competitive Enterprise Institute, Jan. 23, 2008

http://www.cei.org/gencon/019,06374.cfm

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom may have new leaders who bring the promise overall of better trans-Atlantic relations, but when it comes to the politics of global trade, some things never change. This month, the European Union missed yet another deadline for correcting its illegal regulation of gene-spliced, or "genetically modified" (GM), crop varieties, following a World Trade Organization decision in November 2005 that some European countries were breaking international trade rules by prohibiting the import of GM foods and crops.

Although the WTO bluntly scolded the EU for imposing a moratorium on gene-spliced crop approvals from 1998 to 2004, that finding was a foregone conclusion. European politicians, including then-EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström, had acknowledged that the moratorium was "an illegal, illogical, and otherwise arbitrary line in the sand."

The WTO also made clear that national bans on certain gene-spliced foods in Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Luxembourg were blatant violations both of those countries' treaty obligations and EU rules, but the European Commission has been impotent in persuading its rogue members to conform to EU policies. Not only are most of those national bans still in place but, in October 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy implemented a new moratorium on the commercial cultivation of gene-spliced corn.

The most important victory for the United States and its partners was the WTO's judgment that the European Commission failed to abide by its own regulations by "undue delaying" of approvals for 25 gene-spliced food products. The culprit here was (and is) the European Commission's highly politicized, sclerotic, two-stage approval process: Each application first must be cleared for marketing by various scientific panels, and then voted on by politicians, who routinely undo the scientific decisions.

As the WTO pointed out, the relevant EC scientific committees had recommended approval of all 25 product applications. But, for transparently political reasons rather than concerns about consumer health or environmental protection, EU politicians repeatedly refused to sign off on the final approvals.

It is important to recall that these are superior products made with state-of-the art technology that is both more precise and predictable than other techniques for the genetic improvement of plants. The safety and importance of GM technology have been endorsed by dozens of scientific bodies around the world, including the French Academies of Science and Medicine, U.K. Royal Society, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, American Medical Association, and many others.

The good news is that the WTO chastised the European Union for failing to follow its own regulatory rules. The bad news is the absence from the panel report of any condemnation of those rules themselves, in spite of the fact that they are blatantly unscientific and excessive, and are clear violations of the trade treaties enforced by the WTO. Under the various WTO-enforced treaties, member countries are free to enact any level of environmental or health regulations they choose -- as long as (1) every such regulation is based on the results of a risk analysis showing that some legitimate risk exists, and (2) the degree of regulation is proportional to that risk.

Every risk analysis performed by countless scientific bodies worldwide has shown that the splicing of new genes into plants, per se, introduces no incremental risks. A 2001 European Commission report summarizing the conclusions of 81 different EU-funded research projects spanning fifteen years concluded that, because GM plants and foods are made with highly precise and predictable techniques, they are at least as safe and often safer than their conventional counterparts. In 2003, then-EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs David Byrne acknowledged that the official European Commission position was that currently marketed GM crop varieties posed no greater food safety or environmental threat than the corresponding conventional food varieties.

None of this has translated into more enlightened decisions on either policy or individual products, however (although over the past few years the EU has approved a small, token number of gene-spliced product applications in order to pretend that its regulatory apparatus is now in compliance with the WTO ruling). By requiring extraordinary testing procedures for an admittedly safer technology, the EU's approach is not only disproportionate but actually manifests an inverse relationship between the degree of risk and amount of regulatory scrutiny. This is both absurd and illegal, but at a "background" briefing in February 2006, an unnamed "EU official" noted that, "[i]t is nevertheless clear, beyond any doubt, that the EU will not have to modify its GMO legislation and authorization procedures."

Because uncertainty is anathema to R&D, few companies are likely to risk the tens of millions of dollars in regulatory costs needed to pursue new GM products in Europe. Even worse, the less developed nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which once anticipated that agricultural and food biotechnology could provide them a brighter and more self-sufficient future, will continue to be shut out of the important European market by policymakers' callous, pernicious obstructionism.

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom may have new leaders who bring the promise overall of better trans-Atlantic relations, but when it comes to the politics of global trade, some things never change. This month, the European Union missed yet another deadline for correcting its illegal regulation of gene-spliced, or "genetically modified" (GM), crop varieties, following a World Trade Organization decision in November 2005 that some European countries were breaking international trade rules by prohibiting the import of GM foods and crops.

Although the WTO bluntly scolded the EU for imposing a moratorium on gene-spliced crop approvals from 1998 to 2004, that finding was a foregone conclusion. European politicians, including then-EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström, had acknowledged that the moratorium was "an illegal, illogical, and otherwise arbitrary line in the sand."

The WTO also made clear that national bans on certain gene-spliced foods in Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Luxembourg were blatant violations both of those countries' treaty obligations and EU rules, but the European Commission has been impotent in persuading its rogue members to conform to EU policies. Not only are most of those national bans still in place but, in October 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy implemented a new moratorium on the commercial cultivation of gene-spliced corn.

The most important victory for the United States and its partners was the WTO's judgment that the European Commission failed to abide by its own regulations by "undue delaying" of approvals for 25 gene-spliced food products. The culprit here was (and is) the European Commission's highly politicized, sclerotic, two-stage approval process: Each application first must be cleared for marketing by various scientific panels, and then voted on by politicians, who routinely undo the scientific decisions.

As the WTO pointed out, the relevant EC scientific committees had recommended approval of all 25 product applications. But, for transparently political reasons rather than concerns about consumer health or environmental protection, EU politicians repeatedly refused to sign off on the final approvals.

It is important to recall that these are superior products made with state-of-the art technology that is both more precise and predictable than other techniques for the genetic improvement of plants. The safety and importance of GM technology have been endorsed by dozens of scientific bodies around the world, including the French Academies of Science and Medicine, U.K. Royal Society, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, American Medical Association, and many others.

The good news is that the WTO chastised the European Union for failing to follow its own regulatory rules. The bad news is the absence from the panel report of any condemnation of those rules themselves, in spite of the fact that they are blatantly unscientific and excessive, and are clear violations of the trade treaties enforced by the WTO. Under the various WTO-enforced treaties, member countries are free to enact any level of environmental or health regulations they choose -- as long as (1) every such regulation is based on the results of a risk analysis showing that some legitimate risk exists, and (2) the degree of regulation is proportional to that risk.

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Patterns of Political Response to Biofortified Varieties of Crops Produced with Different Breeding Techniques and Agronomic Traits

- Carl Pray et. al., AgBioForum, Vol, 10, No. 3, web posted Jan. 11, 2008

http://www.agbioforum.org/v10n3/v10n3a02-pray.htm

This article first examines the political response to two crops that were nutritionally enhanced through conventional breeding - Quality Protein Maize (QPM) and orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. In the next section, the political response to food crops - maize, potato, and papaya - which have improved agronomic traits through genetic engineering is described. Finally, we mention briefly the initial political responses to biofortified GMO rice, potatoes, cassava, and sorghum. To gain political support as well as extensive adoption by farmers, biofortification needs to be combined with attractive agronomic traits. These case studies also show that only GMOs have elicited a strong negative political response and that the consumer trait, biofortification, is not likely to make GMOs more appealing to activists and politicians. However, political opposition to GMOs can be outweighed by well-organized, politically powerful interest groups.

[Full text at link above]

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Cabinet of Ministers will claim for the labeling of GMO products imported to Ukraine

- Agrooglyad: Vegetables and Fruits, Jan. 18, 2008

http://www.lol.org.ua/eng/showart.php?id=54364

The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine is intended to claim for the introduction of the labeling of the products with genetically modified organisms (GMO), imported to Ukraine. The Government decided to add the respective point to the action program "Ukrainian Breakthrough" approved during the meeting on the 16th of January.

The initial draft of the program stipulated the obligatory labeling only to GMO products produced in Ukraine. "Ukrainian Breakthrough" action program of the Cabinet of Ministers was actively discussed by the government members during the meeting on the 16th of January; the Ministers suggested various proposals for the document improvement.

In August past year the Cabinet of Ministers obliged the producers to locate information about the presence of GMOs in the product tissues on the packs of food products. However, the Cabinet of Ministers canceled this decision on the 21st of November and obliged State Consumer Standart Committee and other relevant institutions to prepare till December 25th the draft projects for development of the required legislative basis on the issue of GMO product labeling in view of WTO and International Plant Protection Convention requirements.

Early March All-Ukrainian State Scientific-Production Center of standardization, meteorology, certification and consumer advocacy informed about the significant quantity of food products with GMOs in Ukraine. GMOs are the organisms where genetic material is changed by method which is impossible in natural conditions. Genetically modified soybeans, and also corn, rice, tomatoes, sugar beet and other crops are the most vide-spread products of this kind.

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Draft regulations for field trials of genetically modified crops

- USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Jan. 23, 2008

http://www.fas.usda.gov/scripts/gd.asp?ID=146293488

Highlight: The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) recently notified these draft regulations to the WTO under SPS number 08-0186, with a final date for comments of March 7, 2008. This English version was provided by MARD and was only minimally edited by Post. These regulations are expected to be approved by mid 2008 and to take effect by the end of 2008.

View the Acrobat version: http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200801/146293488.pdf

View/Download the MS Word version: http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200801/146293488.doc

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Transgenic rice seeds still await go-ahead

- Wu Jiao, China Daily, Jan. 28, 2008

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2008-01/26/content_6422539.htm

China strictly supervises its transgenic rice research and production, and no such seed has been approved for the market, according to agriculture officials.

"Scientists are still conducting research on transgenic rice," Yang Xiongnian, deputy director of the science, technology and education division under the Ministry of Agriculture, said on Friday.

"We are at the last stage of safety evaluation."

Unlike some countries which promoted transgenic agricultural products mainly for commercial reasons, food and environmental safety are top priorities for China, Yang told China Daily.

Research has mainly been carried out in Hunan and Hubei provinces, with a variety of transgenic rice seeds being tested, Yang said.

But he noted the benefits of transgenic rice have yet to be proved.

According to regulations, transgenic plants must undergo lab experiments, pilot tests and production experiments before they get safety certificates for commercial promotion.

But even after all of these steps are taken, market acceptance is a crucial factor.

Yang cited cases in the United States, where some transgenic wheat seeds, although proven safe, were not accepted by consumers.

China has so far approved transgenic cotton, potato, miniento and morning glory seeds, but only transgenic cotton seeds have proven popular with farmers.

China's annual cotton production exceeded 7 million tons last year.

Figures from the management office of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Biosafety under the ministry show that - between 2002 and 2007 - it approved experiments of 2,361 transgenic seeds of a variety of agriculture plants, with 1,109 receiving safety certificates.

But no transgenic rice seeds have been approved for the market, said the office director.

Huang Dafang, an expert in GMO research at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said earlier that transgenic technology should be "bravely explored" if it benefits people.

But Beijing resident Hu Xiao said he "wants more information on these new types of food" to make free choices between transgenic and common products.

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'India may turn big producer of GM rice, vegetables by 2010'

- M.R. Subramani, The Hindu, Jan. 24, 2008

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2008/01/24/stories/2008012450911300.htm

Rabo India: Country is leading biotech investment destination

Challenges

Intellectual property is one of the deterrents to growth of the biotech industry as foreign players feel there is no sufficient patent protection and access to patent litigation in the country.

Chennai - India has the potential to become a major producer of transgenic rice and several genetically modified (GM) or engineered vegetables by 2010, according to a research report by Rabo India Finance Ltd on the Indian agri-biotech sector. It has emerged as one of the leading destinations for investment in biotechnology in the recent years. It is also emerging as an important destination for both biomarkers and validation services, the report said.

A biomarker is a substance used as an indicator of a biologic state. It is a characteristic that is objectively measured and evaluated as an indicator of normal biologic processes, pathogenic processes, or pharmacologic responses to a therapeutic intervention.

According to the report, there is an increasing use of molecular markers in crop breeding and a growing realisation that some of these new technologies could lead to future growth in the productivity and quality of crops such as rice, wheat, eggplant (brinjal), tomato and okra (lady's finger).

Stating that alliances were becoming increasingly important in seed industry to bridge the gap between field experience and emerging technologies, the report said most research and development works in the country are being done in the public sector. "These institutions are being generously funded by the Union Government," it said. Research work on

Research work is being carried in 19 crops. They are rice, wheat, cotton, potato, banana, tomato, rapeseed, mustard, coffee, tobacco, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, melon, citrus fruit, black gram, groundnut, chickpea and pigeon pea.

Eight institutions, as per the report, are concentrating on two or more crops, while others are concentrating on one each.

"Four kinds of tracts are being tackled: Resistance to attacks by insect pests, viral and fungal diseases (biotic stress); drought tolerance, water logging and salinity; and delayed ripening and increasing shelf life," the report said.

Referring to Bt cotton, it said over 60 per cent of the 62 lakh hectares under hybrid seeds were GM strains, and a study had revealed gain to the tune of Rs 11,000 a hectare.

On Bt brinjal, the report said it could be the next important biotech crop with several public institutions and private companies developing improved varieties of drought tolerant ones. These plants are also being developed to resist shoot and fruit borer, it said, adding that two private firms have developed strains to control fruit and shoot borer.

While transgenic tomato is aimed at curbing damage from leaf curl virus and other infections such as buck eye rot of fruits, septoria and early blight, transgenic potato, being developed by public institutions, was yet to attract the private sector's attention. "On the regulatory front, it is in the final stages of approval (by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee)," the report said. GM strains

Stating that much attention was being paid to research on GM rice, Rabo India said the aim was to develop saline and drought tolerant varieties, but no GM strain had been commercially released. However, developments relating to the "Golden" rice will have a significant impact on India, it said.

GM wheat was under development at the South Campus of the Delhi University, while a host of other crops were being developed by public and private sector.

"The future of transgenic seeds will see many private companies entering into the transgenic seed market in India. Many companies are developing agronomically important crops. Some medium and large size seed companies with an annual turnover of Rs 35 crore are developing transgenic seeds," it said.

On the challenges faced by the industry, the report said intellectual property was one of the deterrents to growth of the biotech industry as foreign players feel there was no sufficient patent protection and access to patent litigation in the country. "However, this perception has recently changed to a great extent," it said.

On the biotech sector's growth, the Rabo India said during 2006-07, the agri-biotech industry's revenue was Rs 926 crore, while it clocked an annual growth of 55 per cent.

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Bt cotton acreage up 29% in TN

- Joseph Vackayil, The Financial Express (India), Jan. 27, 2008

http://www.financialexpress.com/news/Bt-cotton-acreage-up-29-in-TN/266029/

Perambalur - Farmers of Vempavur village, in Perambalur district, in Tamil Nadu have decided to increase the acreage under genetically modified Bt cotton (both Bollgard and Bollgard II varieties) next season indicating the increased popularity of the seed among the state's farmers.

Of the 2.85 lakh acres of Bt cotton planted in Tamil Nadu in 2007, 29% up from 2.2 lakh acres in 2006, 92,000 acres are in Perambalur district. In the season beginning July-August, 2008, ''if we get enough quantity of the Bollgard II seeds we will plant only cotton in our entire land'', N Venkatachalam and S Kamaraj leading cotton cultivators in the region told FE.

They said before the arrival of Bt cotton in 2003, they had abandoned cotton cultivation, the traditional cash crop in that arid region, owing to unmanageable pest attacks. ''All our earnings from the sale of cotton, which did not exceed two quintals an acre, were to be given to the pesticide distributors. Even after 15-16 spraying we were not able to control the pests and the entire crop was damaged,'' Venkatachalam said.

He said farmers now prefer Bollgard II as it protects the cotton bolls from three types of worms and also from the defoliating pests, though its price for a 450 gm packet, at Rs 925, is more than Rs 750 for Bollgard.

Officials of Monsanto, the suppliers of Bt technology, said, ''Bollgard II technology has a unique and superior double gene technology, Cry 1Ac and Cry2Ab derived from soil-borne bacterium, and provides in-built protection against bollworms and spodoptera caterpillar.''

The farmers said there was confusion in the market in the pricing of the Bt cotton seeds. ''Sometimes traders sell at prices much higher than the MRP. At other times they sell at lower prices. This makes us doubt about the genuineness of the seeds,'' farmers said.

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Florida Genetics Announces New Patent

- Florida Genetics, LLC (press release), Jan. 28, 2008

http://prweb.com/releases/biotechnology/gene/prweb650811.htm

St. Petersburg, Florida -- Florida Genetics, LLC, is pleased to announce the issuance of US Patent No. 7,129,343 "Bi-directional dual promoter complex with enhanced promoter activity for transgene expression in eukaryotes", a new genetic engineering technique for controlling gene expression in plants, animals and many microbes. This patent describes the newly invented Bidirectional Dual Promoter Complex (BDPC), which facilitates genetic engineering by simultaneously coordinating the expression of multiple genes in a single, easily manipulated, genetic unit. The BDPC provides dramatic improvement over mono-directional promoter systems that have been used in all previous eukaryotic genetic engineering systems and is the most efficient method known for up- or down-regulating expression of virtually any targeted gene or genes. Genes of interest can be readily arranged in the BDPC, which is then inserted into a target organism's chromosomes using standard biotechnological methods. In this way new traits, such as disease resistance or protein production, can be readily created.

This unique BDPC is formed by the use of enhancer repeats in combination with divergently positioned core promoters, all derived from a single source/homologous promoter, to achieve enhanced transcription activity. Physical duplication of the same enhancer entity, as is present in the BDPC, has yet to be identified in nature. Similarly, the divergent orientation of homologous promoters does not occur in Eukaryotes. The utility and novelty of the BDPC is demonstrated by the enhanced expression of multiple genes afforded by the placement of duplicated enhancer elements between divergently arranged homologous core promoter elements. Further description of the BDPC, its applications, as well as other FGL technologies can be found at http://www.flgenetics.net and http://www.flgenetics.net/molecular.asp .

Although initially developed for genetic engineering of grape and other crops by Drs. Zhijian Li and Dennis Gray at the University of Florida/IFAS Central Florida Research and Education Center, the patent applies to use of the BDPC to control gene expression in all eukaryotic organisms (e.g., plants and animals). Thus far, the BDPC has been demonstrated to function in plants belonging to the genera Arabidopsis, Citrus, Nicotiana and Vitis. Developmental research is under way to demonstrate the utility of the BDPC in other organisms. See www.mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/grapes/genetics for description of the Gray laboratories activities and access to recent publications and presentations.

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HIV vaccine from tomatoes, a long awaited gift for millions

- Tanuja Rohatgi, Checkbiotech, Jan. 23, 2008

http://www.checkbiotech.org/green_News_Genetics.aspx?infoId=16740

In the fight against diseases, one disease which continues to elude is AIDS. Most medication until now, can only slow down the progression of AIDS. However, with help from researchers in Mexico, plants may soon offer a solution.

One of the greatest problems that the world faces is creating treatments for HIV at costs that even the developing world can afford. Or even better, creating production methods for a vaccine that can be inexpensively set up in developing countries - and what could be less expensive than growing a plant.

One such solution involves using plants to produce a vaccine as presented by Dr. Miguel Angel Gomez Lim and his group at the Center for Research and Advanced Studies (Centro de Investigacion y de Estudios Avanzados) Irapuato, Mexico. In their recent publication they showed how they were successful in generating transgenic tomato plants that produced a key HIV protein called Tat.

The first hurdle faced by Dr. Lim in generating the enhanced plants was the selection of the right plant. He zeroed in on tomatoes, unlike the commonly used tobacco, to avoid consumption of toxic alkaloids found in tobacco plants.

To generate the transgenic tomato plants, Dr. Lim selected the Tat gene and joined it with another gene responsible for fruit-specific expression of proteins in tomatoes. The genetically modified Tat gene construct was introduced into tomato cotyledons via standardized procedure and transgenic plants were grown to maturity.

Testing for Tat expression

Once the transgenic plants were ready, they were subjected to an extensive round of testing. A very positive aspect was that they showed no difference from their wild-type counterparts in terms of time of flowering, ripening, and leaf morphology.

Dr. Lim's group also found that the tomato plants did not produce viable seeds or they produced highly underdeveloped seeds. This would help prevent the genetically engineered tomato plants from passing their genetic information to other plants.

Further analysis revealed the presence of Tat transgene in the transgenic tomato plants and its incorporation into the tomato genome. They also showed Tat expression is indeed confined to tomato fruit and increases with ripening of the fruit, while absent in other plant organs.

Additional experiments revealed that the Tat gene in transgenic plants is functionally active and produce an immunologically active protein. Thus, Dr. Lim was successful in generating transgenic tomato plants expressing active Tat protein, with a potential to be used for development of a HIV vaccine.

Time for Mice

Next obvious step for the researchers was to test the effectiveness of the plant produced Tat protein in mice. Following an elaborate immunization protocol (intra-peritoneal, intra-muscular and oral) in mice, Dr. Lim's team found that tomato extracts expressing Tat protein were able to elicit a strong immune response in mice with the intra-peritoneal route being the strongest. This was an important finding, because it signified a good vaccine. Even better, Dr. Lim's team noticed that a second administration further enhanced the immune response.

The immune response was of course promising, however, the best choice for a vaccine would be an oral one. To determine that Dr. Lim's team checked for induction of mucosal immunity, which would denote that the vaccine is promising for oral use, and the tests - also gave promising results. This means that the plant produced Tat protein is not only a good vaccine, but that it also has the potential to be a good oral vaccine.

After having shown that the vaccine was effective orally, Dr. Lim's team went one step further. Their tests elucidated that anti-Tat antibodies from sera of orally immunized mice are also capable of blocking activity of extracellular Tat protein, indicating usefulness of the plant-based Tat protein in neutralizing effects of extracellular Tat in HIV infected individuals. These results suggest that their vaccine may eventually help protect infected individuals, as well.

Make it better

Since the transgenic plants produce non-viable seeds, Dr. Lim plans to propagate the plants via asexual means. This involves cloning of transgenic line thereby ensuing identical characteristics. Dr. Lim told Checkbiotech, "We are working towards adding an adjuvant to the Tat protein expressing tomato extract to increase its immunogenicity for both oral and intra-peritoneal forms of vaccine." Adjuvants are commonly used with vaccines to help produce a better immune response, thus yielding a more effective vaccine.

Dr. Lim and his colleagues are busy in working on a cocktail of antigens to get better results via oral administration. "We have linked several HIV genes with another HIV protein Gag as an anchor and have expressed them in tomatoes, but we have not done any animal experiments as of yet."

When asked whether he was ready to initiate clinical trials soon, Dr. Lim added, "Not yet, as conducting clinical trails are very expensive, and we need to do further tests such as determination of toxicity and best dosage".

On cultivation of transgenic plants, Dr. Lim informed Checkbiotech, "We envisage growing the plants in sealed contained environment to minimize any potential risk of cross-contamination."

When asked whether the enhanced tomato plants will reduce costs and be economically viable economic viability of growing Tat gene expressing transgenic plants on a large scale, 'We believe so, but would need to actually test the hypothesis.'

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Engineered Mosquitoes Could Wipe Out Dengue Fever

- Alexis Madrigal, Wired, Jan. 23, 2008

http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/news/2008/01/gm_insects

Scientists at a British biotech company said they have evidence that their genetically modified mosquitoes, which are programmed for sudden, early death, can control the spread of dengue fever.

Dengue is carried by mosquitoes and is the scourge of urban areas in the developing world, much as malaria is in rural regions. The company, Oxitec, said it can decimate mosquito populations by breeding genetically modified male mosquitoes, then releasing them to mate with wild females. Their offspring contain lethal genes that kill them young, before they can reproduce. Company officials told Wired News that their latest test results show that the genetically modified bugs can breed just as well as wild ones.

"We will be able to control dengue through controlling the mosquitoes that transmit it, especially in large urban areas," said the company's chief scientist Luke Alphey. "Thereby protecting many, many millions of people from this disease."

Mosquitoes pass dengue fever to up to 100 million people each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Up to 5 million die. If the scientists can replicate their results in real field conditions, their technology could kill half of the next generation of dengue mosquitoes, which scientists say would significantly reduce the spread of the disease. If all goes well the company envisions releasing the insects in Malaysia on a large scale in three years.

Oxitec's latest research, which company scientists will present in February at the IX International Symposium on Vectors and Vector-borne Diseases in Puri, India, included an independent evaluation by Malaysia's Institute for Medical Research, part of the country's Ministry of Health, said S.S. Vasan, Oxitec's head of public health, in an e-mail. The results showed that up to 50 percent of wild female mosquitoes mated with Oxitec's genetically modified male mosquitoes.

The company's work has attracted the interest of some of the world's economic honchos. At the Davos Economic Forum this week, Alphey will receive one of 39 Technology Pioneer Awards. The Gates Foundation's Global Challenges in Global Health initiative is giving Oxitec $5 million over the next five years. The company has also received several million dollars in venture capital from East Hill Management Company and Oxford Capital Partners.

Oxitec's technology is a variation of a proven process called "sterile insect technique," which scientists have already used to eliminate the screwworm and the Mediterranean fruit fly from North America. It involves irradiating male insects, causing mutations that make them sterile. When released into the wild, they mate with females who then fail to reproduce.

But the amount of radiation used in that technique kills mosquitoes. So in a twist on the sterile insect technique, Alphey discovered a way to genetically program the bugs to die unless they're fed the common antibiotic tetracycline.

By postponing death with tetracycline, the scientists can keep the altered bugs alive long enough to breed them in large numbers. When released into the wild, they no longer receive tetracycline so the previously silenced gene springs into action. The bugs stay alive long enough to breed with wild females, but their offspring die young.

In other words, the mosquitoes are genetically poisoned, but Alphey's team provides the antidote until they are released in the wild.

"It occurred to me that this could be used to give death, sterility or whatever you want in insects," Alphey said.

Alphey's approach to genetic modification is different from other research on so-called population replacement efforts, which aim to "inoculate" the mosquito population against dengue, which would, in turn, prevent them from passing it to humans. Oxitec's technique is considered less controversial by some scientists because the genetically modified insects are programmed to die, not take over the existing mosquito population.

But as with genetically modified crop companies like Monsanto, Oxitec could face a backlash from a wary public. Greenpeace, among others, oppose genetic engineering of organisms that could be released into the wild.

"Releasing millions of genetically modified terminator mosquitoes into wild ecosystems amounts to a reckless and uncontrolled experiment with a risky technology," said Jim Thomas, of the ETC Group, a technology watchdog. "Oxitec's (project) abandons all pretense of containment or possible recall. I wonder what sort of liability they are willing to assume if something goes wrong?"

Thomas also questioned Oxitec's core technology -- a regulatory switch that uses tetracycline.

"The assumption is that the insects will not encounter tetracycline in the wild and yet tetracycline, naturally derived from a soil bacteria, is widely used in agriculture," Thomas said.

"Genetically engineered insects for pest control are a literal disaster waiting to happen," said Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, in an e-mail.

Alphey, however, believes the benefits -- potentially combating dengue as well as cutting down on pesticide use -- will stave off public protests.

"Clearly, there will be people who are completely closed to the idea, no matter what the benefit," Alphey said. "But ... people know about malaria and dengue and these sorts of things. They know they don't want them. They really see the point in what people (like us) are trying to do."

Thomas Miller, an entomologist at the University of California at Riverside who has worked with Alphey on a cotton-crop pest, said the current mosquito population control options are not good.

They generally involve using insecticides or destroying their standing-water larval hatching grounds. In urban areas where dengue fever mosquitoes grow, however, it has proven difficult to eliminate small sources of water in empty coke cans, spare tires and gutters. On the other hand, low-tech options like bed nets have helped reduce rates of mosquito-borne infection, without reducing mosquito populations.

Oxitec is also working on genetically modified versions of fruit flies, pink bollworms and coding moths.

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National Academy of Sciences Recognizes Monsanto's Chief Technology Officer for Development of Agricultural Biotechnology

- Monsanto Company (news release), Jan. 24, 2008

http://monsanto.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=569

ST. LOUIS -- The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Council announced this week that Robert T. Fraley, Ph.D., chief technology officer and executive vice president for Monsanto, has been awarded the NAS Award for the Industrial Application of Science. This prize is awarded every three years for original work of intrinsic scientific importance and with significant, beneficial applications in industry -- in this case, the improvement of crops through biotechnology.

The NAS council awarded Fraley for his development of "technologies which enabled the production of the world's first transgenic crops. These plants have increased productivity, reduced chemical use and profoundly changed global agriculture."

"On behalf of the Monsanto team, I congratulate Robb on this tremendous recognition," said Hugh Grant, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Monsanto.

"It was Robb's leadership that brought the first products developed through biotechnology to market in the 1990s," Grant said. "As a result of these efforts, literally millions of farmers around the world benefit from the use of these products including the ability to increase yield and profitability on farm while simultaneously reducing global agriculture's footprint on our environment."

Fraley's development of the first biotechnology product, which first launched on four million acres in 1996, paved the way for a renaissance in global agriculture. Today, seven million farmers in 18 countries grow biotech crops on more than 160 million acres. The 12 products resulting from his work represent one of the most successful new agricultural technologies ever launched.

The annual growth and acceptance of these products, steady addition of new products and a pipeline of future products emerging from this technology demonstrate the ongoing, sustainable nature of agricultural biotechnology as a key agronomic tool to enhance the production of the world's major food, feed and fiber crops.

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Farmer Jeff: Raccoons love sweet corn -- Bt or not

- SafeFoodCafe, YouTube, Jan. 23, 2007

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztWWqugczm8

Farmer Jeff explains some of the trade-offs involved in growing corn, and raccoon control, and why he didn't have time to get a haircut because of severe weather conditions in 2000 in Ontario.

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Ten Thousand Years of Crop Improvement

- uctelevision, YouTube, Jan. 23, 2007

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfH-88mVi_4

[runtime 42 mins.]

Even without genetic "engineering", how "natural" are our crop plants? How do genetically modified crops differ? Join biologist Maarten Chrispeels and explore how crop plants have changed since hum... (more) Added: January 23, 2008 Even without genetic "engineering", how "natural" are our crop plants? How do genetically modified crops differ? Join biologist Maarten Chrispeels and explore how crop plants have changed since humans began farming. Series: Science Matters

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