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February 8, 2008


Ban Hubbubs Abound; Resistance to Bt Cotton? Lisa the Geep


* France Wants Ban at EU Level
* Poland to hamper GMO planting
* EU, US seek arbitration in WTO case
* South Australia to stay GM-free
* Disastrous fallout from slow approvals process
* Halting growth through protectionism
* USGC confronts biotech constraints
* Forage and Grasslands Group Approves Biotech
* Production Frontiers: Spartan Corn
* DuPont pledges $1 million to World Food Prize
* Pest resistance to biotech cotton
* Sheep and goat create Lisa the GEEP


France to Formally Request GMO Ban at EU Level

- Reuters via PlanetArk, Feb. 8, 2008


PARIS - France will file a request with the European Union to formally ban the commercial use of the only genetically modified (GMO) crop grown in the country this Friday, Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said.

France issued an internal decree in December to suspend commercial use of MON 810, a maize developed by US biotech giant Monsanto until February 9.

It has since said it would invoke what is known as a safeguard clause at European Union level to secure a more long term ban though it will be required to provide new, scientific proof of the risks posed by the GMO seed to succeed.

MON 810 maize has been authorised for use throughout the 27-nation bloc by the European Commission.

"I inform you that (the safeguard clause) will be formally and legally sent to Brussels tomorrow," Borloo told France 2 television on Thursday.

France would need to carry out additional studies into the GMO seed variety, Borloo added.

Monsanto has challenged France's attempts to ban its MON 810 maize technology, describing the move as illegal and harmful to the biotech sector.

It will now be up to the European Union to say whether France's use of the safeguard clause is justified.

The EU itself is set to re-evaluate the use of the MON 810 maize later this year.

France's senate has been locked in debate over the content of a new law on GMOs, expected to be examined by parliament in early April.

The new law would respond to European Union requirements, since 2001, that member states formulate internal guidelines on the use of GMOs.

Those in favour of GMO crops, including some French farmers and seed companies, and those against, including much of the public and green groups, have been locking horns on how the new GMO guidelines should look.


Poland to hamper GMO planting despite lifting ban

- Gabriela Baczynska, Reuters via Guardian Unlimited (UK), Feb. 8, 2008


MOSCOW - Poland will seek to make planting of genetically modified seeds nearly impossible for local farmers even though it plans to lift an official ban to comply with EU law, the agriculture minister told Reuters on Friday.

European Union regulators launched legal action against Poland last month over plans that amounted to a national GMO ban by its biggest ex-communist member. Lawyers for the European Commission said it had no scientific justification.

"We will delay the farming of genetically modified animal feed as much as possible because there is no social acceptance for it," Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki told Reuters during a Moscow visit with the Polish prime minister.

"According to EU law we cannot forbid it, but we can make it as difficult as possible, setting additional requirements, such as obtaining permission by neighbours," he said.

Poland's law on seeds and plant protection, adopted in April 2006, introduced a total ban of trade in GMO seeds varieties on Polish territory. The Commission takes the view that if a region wants to ban GMO crops or products, such restrictions must be scientifically justified and crop-specific to comply with EU law.

The proposed ban must not be politically motivated, or a blanket GMO restriction that might distort the EU's single trading market. Since the use and trade of GMO seeds was harmonised across EU member countries, the Commission had told Poland -- in a first letter sent in October 2006 and another sent in June 2007 -- that its GMO ban broke EU law, the statement said.


EU, US seek arbitration in biotech crops row

- Jonathan Lynn, Reuters, Feb 8, 2008


GENEVA - The European Union and United States said on Friday they were seeking arbitration at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in their long-running row over the EU's ban on biotech crops.

But the two trading powers told the WTO's dispute settlement body they intended to suspend the request for arbitration to give themselves more time to work out a solution, trade officials said.

Crops engineered to resist pests and tolerate pesticides while improving yields are increasingly popular with farmers in rich and poor countries.

But many EU consumers, keen on organic produce, are wary of eating "Frankenfoods", while advocacy groups say genetically modified (GMO) crops threaten biodiversity.

The WTO has ordered Brussels to end the ban on GMO crops, and Washington has asserted its right to retaliate if the EU fails to do so by seeking compensation equal to the lost value of exports and licensing fees.

But the EU says this compensation is out of line with WTO rules, hence the need for arbitration.

Washington says its main interest is to open up EU markets to biotech crops rather than seeking compensation by suspending benefits enjoyed by the EU in U.S. markets under WTO rules.

Brussels has found it hard to implement the WTO ruling in the dispute, which also pits it against Argentina and Canada, because the 27 EU member states operate their own bans.

Friday's manoeuverings at the WTO aimed to get around inconsistencies in WTO dispute rules, which set conflicting timetables for seeking compensation when members fail to comply with rulings, and determining whether they have done so.

Austria continues to ban MON 810 maize made by U.S. biotech company Monsanto (MON.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and T25 maize developed by German drugs and chemicals group Bayer (BAYG.DE: Quote, Profile, Research). The EU's biggest food producer France imposed a temporary ban last month on MON 810.

The case will be closely watched by other biotech companies such as U.S. chemicals majors Du Pont (DD.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and Dow Chemical (DOW.N: Quote, Profile, Research), and Switzerland's Syngenta (SYNN.VX: Quote, Profile, Research), the world's biggest agrochemicals company.


South Australia to stay GM-free

- Tim Dornin, The Herald Sun, Feb. 8, 2008


SOUTH Australia will maintain a ban on genetically modified (GM) crops, a move welcomed by environmental groups but widely criticised by the scientific community. Premier Mike Rann and Agriculture Minister Rory McEwen said the current moratorium, due to expire at the end of April, would be continued to maintain the state's clean and green image.

The decision went against a report from South Australia's GM Crops Advisory Committee, which recommended lifting the ban across the state, except on Kangaroo Island.

It was also in contrast to the approval given to canola farmers in Victoria and NSW to start growing GM crops this year, but in line with similar moves by Western Australia and Tasmania.

Scientists said the decision was "astonishing'' and "lacking courage and vision''.

Ian Edwards, advisory group chairman with AusBiotech, Australia's biotechnology industry peak organisation, said the move went against market realities.

"They have instead pandered to fringe groups and have rendered a great disservice to the farmers of South Australia,'' Dr Edwards said.

Mr Rann said the Government was yet to be convinced that allowing GM crops would have a positive impact on marketing the state's food and wine to important export destinations around the world.

"It makes sense for us to maintain our current position until there's more certainty regarding the impact of exporting GM grains,'' he said.

"We must be mindful that there's simply no turning back once the moratorium has been lifted. ``Maintaining the moratorium now will enable us to monitor developments elsewhere.''

South Australian Greens MP Mark Parnell said the decision was to be applauded, but warned contamination of SA farms from GM crops grown in Victoria was now a threat.

"GM seeds will not respect state borders,'' he said.

"International experience shows that it is impossible to successfully segregate GM and non-GM crops.''


Disastrous fallout from slow GM approvals process

- Rog Wood, The Herald (UK), Feb. 7, 2008


The European Union's process for authorising the use of new genetically modified varieties is paralysed and livestock farmers and consumers will suffer the consequences, according to NFU Scotland.

The crux of the problem is the EU's slow GM authorisation process, whereby a new variety takes, on average, two-and-a-half years to be approved. It can take as long as a decade, compared to an average of only 15 months in the US.

This leads to the situation where a GM variety is approved for use in food and in the manufacture of animal feed abroad, but cannot be imported into Europe. The result is a sharp reduction in the amount of non-GM feed potentially available for import into the EU and for use by livestock farmers in Scotland and elsewhere in Europe.

In practice, the impact of this EU approval process has so far been negligible. However, according to NFUS, the situation is changing rapidly.

The US is now cultivating a variety of GM maize and is expected to very shortly start growing a GM variety of soybean, the main ingredient of animal feed used in the UK More worryingly, there are signs that Brazil and Argentina, the two major exporters of feed to the EU, are considering switching to new GM varieties. Previously they have been reluctant to do so because the EU market, which has not approved new GM soybean varieties, is their biggest customer.

However, China is emerging as a major soybean importer, offering a potential alternative market for Brazil and Argentina.

A report published by the European Commission's Agricultural Directorate last year makes some horrendous predictions if this latter scenario, where the US, Brazil and Argentina approve and grow GM varieties of soybean before they are approved in the EU, becomes a reality.

It forecasts vast rises in feed prices, by as much as 600%, the loss of a third of the EU pigs sector, half the poultry sector, a huge rise in meat imports and the effective end of meat exports.

As a result of their concerns the union has written to Scotland's MEPs, drawing their attention to the report.

The chairman of the NFUS Milk Committee, Willie Lamont, said: "GM is obviously a sensitive issue and we have to take our customers with us. However, the reality is that there is a science-based process for authorising GM varieties in the EU to ensure they pass all the necessary checks.

"That system isn't being allowed to do its job and, in the meantime, the world is moving on.


Halting growth

European protectionism is denying farmers access to advances in biotechnology and scientists the opportunity to compete

- Jonathan DG Jones, The Guardian (UK), Feb. 7, 2008


There's been a new furore in France about GM crops and Monsanto's MON810 corn. Rumours abound that the French government made a secret deal with the greens; in return for acceptance of nuclear power, the government would capitulate on GM crops.

A panel composed of distinguished French scientists and representatives of consumers, environmentalists, farmers and industry, was asked last autumn to re-evaluate the risks and benefits of MON810 corn for the environment and human health. This maize makes a protein to restrict losses to corn earworm and to reduce chemical insecticide applications. Unfortunately for the government and its alleged deal, the panel report noted the MON810 corn shows reduced mycotoxin levels (good for consumers) and only pointed out that some new data had emerged since 1998, and that toxicology, ecotoxicology and economic impact should continue to be monitored.

No matter; the chairman in oral testimony misrepresented the written report - referring, for example, to "serious doubts", though such language was absent from the report - and the French government decided to continue restricting a yield-increasing, health-promoting, environmentally beneficial technology, that French maize farmers want to use, and that Spanish maize farmers plant on many thousands of hectares. Result; outrage from most of the scientists on the panel at this triumph of politics over data and a renewed call from leading French scientists for rational appraisal of this extraordinarily promising approach to crop improvement.

There's also been a puzzling apparent decline in enthusiasm from two of the three major European agricultural biotechnology companies - Syngenta and Bayer - for GM crops in Europe. However, their reason is simple; Monsanto has become the Microsoft of the GMO industry, while European agricultural biotechnology companies are held back by delays in EU approval of GM crops at home. Monsanto has been much more successful than any of its competitors at creating genes that improve crop performance. More recently, it is also outperforming them at maize and soybean breeding. So, if GM crops open up in Europe, Monsanto makes a lot more money. Big European agricultural chemical companies make most of their money selling crop control chemicals. Why would they want disease or pest control to be achieved by crop improvement in Europe if the result is loss of a market for their chemical products and if the crops are improved by Monsanto? So, let's all just try to ignore the extra unnecessary tractor trips and CO2 emissions from avoidable agrichemical applications; after all, we're holding the line against American multinationals.

Monsanto's commercial dominance is extraordinary, but the solution is not protectionism in Europe. It is competition from Europe. The challenge to Microsoft did not come from IBM or Dell; it came from impudent, disrespectful start-ups like Sun, Apple, Yahoo and Google. So where could the competition to Monsanto come from? Not Syngenta, Bayer and BASF, if the past is a guide to future performance. Europe has many young and creative plant scientists - the Belgian company PGS (now bought by Bayer) was founded by such people - but researchers are currently disillusioned by European overregulation and the utterly misguided hostility of the European greens towards modern crop improvement.

The big agricultural chemical companies are all in favour of tight regulation in Europe, even if it's not in the public interest. If it keeps Monsanto out too, so much the better for some of them (though not BASF, which has an alliance with Monsanto). Even Monsanto likes regulation, though not if it means they can't sell their seeds. Strangest of all, Monsanto has inadvertent, well-meaning and very effective allies to crush challenges to its dominance, in the form of Greenpeace, the Soil Association, the organic movement and the European Union's labyrinthine GM crop regulations. Monsanto has always been very enthusiastic about regulation, crop monitoring, and anything else that ties the competition up in knots, and prices them out of the market. Say what you like about Monsanto, these people are not stupid. So, it's weird. Agricultural chemical goliaths conspire with Greenpeace to keep Monsanto out of Europe, and Monsanto conspires with Greenpeace to keep down competition from small companies and the public sector. Strange bedfellows; it would be amusing, if the consequences were not so damaging.

The EU often huffs and puffs about its aspirations to lead the world in the "knowledge-based bioeconomy", while at the same time suffocating the capacity to bring to market foods and crops improved by biotechnology. If the EU is serious about exercising leadership, here is what it should do. First, it should completely deregulate any GM crop engineered only with plant genes, and simply treat these GM crops on the same basis as any other new plant variety. Second, it should dramatically speed up the assessment of other GM crops, so that we can all benefit quickly from increased crop yield, improved efficiency of nitrogen or water usage, improved insect and nematode resistance, and improved food quality. Third, it should cease and desist from preventing European farmers and consumers from benefiting from technology that is dramatically improving the productivity, safety and standard of living of other farmers throughout the rest of the world. We should aim to exceed the US in deregulation, and thus help the developing world. This would be real leadership, and would stimulate a host of EU start-ups in agricultural biotechnology. The UK should push for this; if the notoriously inert EU remains unmoved, then (at the risk of sounding like a convert to UKIP), we should go it alone.

Food prices have doubled in the last year, due to a combination of drought, increased planting for biofuels and increased demand from China. We no longer have the luxury of spurning technology that dramatically increases yield and reduces the environmental impact of agriculture. We also cannot afford to squelch creativity and entrepreneurship that will raise food abundance and quality. Many of us may regret that Monsanto has such dominance. The solution is not protectionism, or excessive regulation, but to free up Europe's scientists and entrepreneurs to compete. And not with one arm tied behind their backs.


USGC confronts biotech constraints

- Southeast Farm Press, Feb 4, 2008


Biotechnology is undoubtedly a major constraint, in many cases, when developing markets and enabling trade for U.S. feed grains.

U.S. Grains Council Assistant Director in Taiwan Clover Chang said the lack of understanding for grains derived from genetically enhanced seeds is an obstacle for U.S. exports and addressing the issue through science-based education efforts has been a long time goal of the Council.

"Assisting in easing biotech regulations is not easy. It consists of using sound science, developing trust of end-users, as well as biotech regulators, and presenting the facts in a detailed, yet easy to understand manner," said Chang. "Due to our long history in Taiwan working as an objective, non-profit organization, we have acquired the trust of government regulators and end-users as being a reliable and trustworthy organization that has much information about the truth regarding biotechnology."

Most recently, Kevin H.T. Lin, senior researcher of Taiwan's Bureau of Food Safety under Department of Health (BFS/DOH), visited the Council's Taiwan office where he discussed the updated development of the approval of agricultural biotech events.

"Since BFS/DOH is studying the regulations of application and approval for stacked biotech events in other advanced countries, and the Food Industry Research and Development Institute (FIRDI) is drafting the related guidelines for BFS/DOH at the moment, he mentioned that it is necessary to have the key persons of FIRDI and key members of the Genetically Modified Foods Advisory Committee (GMFAC) visit the United States to familiarize themselves with the regulations and management of stacked agricultural biotech events," said Chang, adding that the Council will submit an amendment for inviting key government officials and GMFAC members to the United States in the coming months to visit related organizations and government agencies.

Another related hurdle in Taiwan regarding feed grains imports from the United States is the Maximum Residue Limits (MRL), which is the government's set allowed value estimated for pesticides. The MRL of the top 30 agricultural chemicals for growing and storing U.S. grains, crops, fruits and vegetables were submitted to BFS/DOH by American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) on June 1, 2007.

However, MRL will likely become a headache issue at any time, according to Chang.

"We have to provide needed assistance to the authorities for paving the ways to the right direction of MRL issue," he said. "For instance, according to Codex, the MRL of malathion for corn is 0.05 parts per million, which is too low to be practical."

The Council and Taiwan's local feed industry have been working with BFS/DOH to establish more reasonable MRL for corn, barley and grain sorghum, Chang said. Recently, the Council arranged for Hui-Wen Cheng, director general of BFS/DOH, to talk with the chairman, secretary general and directors of Taiwan Feed Industry Association (TFIA) face-to-face about the updated development of MRL of imported grains.

Cheng mentioned that BFS/DOH will likely establish the MRL for some of those 30 agricultural chemicals within three to four months. Chang said the participants appreciated Cheng's "friendly approach to discussing this topic frankly and helping smooth the imports of grains," which amounts to roughly 96 percent from the United States.


Forage and Grasslands Group Approves GMO Technology

- American Agriculturist, Feb. 5, 2008


American Forage and Grassland Council's Board of Directors have weighed in on the Roundup Ready Alfalfa issue - releasing its resolution just ahead of the Feb. 6 closing of public comment on USDA's environmental impact statement process.

The AFGC board unanimously supports the coexistence of both approaches, says AFGC President Bill Tucker, Tucker Family Farms, Amherst, Va. Both genetically modified organism and non-GMO (organic, natural, etc.) science based systems hold promise for sustaining the forage industry and society.

"AFGC is about advancing the use of forages as a resource and promoting both economical and environmental production practices," he says. "The industry is developing both GMO and non-GMO solutions.

"The decision to utilize one system or the other is based on a variety of personal, economic and marketing reasons. Our common goal is advancing the use of forage as a prime resource for everyone's benefit."


Production Frontiers: Spartan Corn

- Daniel Davidson, DTN via Little Sioux Corn Processors, Feb. 6, 2008


EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 includes a Renewable Fuels Standard of 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022. That includes a cap on corn-based ethanol production at 15 billion gallons; after that, ethanol will have to come from sugar and cellulosic materials including cornstalks, wheat straw, switchgrass and wood chips.

Though these materials are rich in cellulose, that cellulose has to be freed from the lignin binding it together. After that, the individual sugars that comprise the cellulose material have to be freed before they can be fermented.

Cellulosic materials need to be pre-treated with cellulase enzymes to separate the lignin and digest the cellulose into simple sugars, a process that costs $1 to $2 per gallon before the sugars are even fermented.

Michigan State University scientist Mariam Sticklen developed a genetically modified corn line called Spartan that produces its own natural cellulase enzyme within the leaves and stalks. The enzymes are not produced or stored in the cob, grain, pollen or roots.

If successfully transferred to commercial hybrids, the trait would be a boon to the cellulosic ethanol industry.

This new corn line was modified with several genes from bacteria that code for and produce cellulase enzymes. The enzymes are then stored in an inactive form in plant cells until the residue is pretreated and the enzymes are activated.

"Our model is to create a biomass product that already contains the necessary cellulase enzymes and modified lignin where pretreatment is easier, simple and faster than current pretreatment processes," Sticklen said.

"We've developed two generations of Spartan corn," he said. "Generation one has a gene from a bacteria found in a hot spring and is tolerant at temperatures over 80 degrees Celsius (176 F). Generation two has a series of genes taken from soil and hot spring bacterium that create a series of cellulase enzymes."

Sticklen said that they need a series of genes and several enzymes to effectively separate the lignin from the cellulose and hemicellulose and then break it down into simple fermentable sugars.

Once the plant dies and cells break down, cellulase is released, but it is not activated until it reaches a temperature of 176 F, a temperature only found in a pretreatment process. Since the cellulase needs high temperatures to activate, it will not affect the integrity or strength of the corn stalk in the field.

Sticklen said the genetically modified cellulase enzymes produced in the corn plant are as good as the commercial types. Current commercial cellulase enzymes are produced by genetically modified organisms in large bioreactor plants. The enzymes are then extracted, purified and sold commercially.

A question yet to be solved is whether Spartan corn will produce enough cellulase enzymes to digest the cornstalks. If it doesn't, commercial treatments will be required to supplement the natural enzymes. "We worked with another laboratory that does pretreatment research to degrade cornstalk material. We did the total conversion process, comparing transgenic (Spartan corn alone) with non-transgenic corn and added (commercial) enzymes. It does seem to convert equally."

Sticklen said that researchers have modified the DNA constructs they inserted into Spartan corn by adding stronger regulatory sequences that produce more copies of the gene and more protein.

"Our goal is to (produce) enough enzymes so that transgenic (Spartan) corn can be commingled with non-transgenic corn and processors do not have to add supplemental enzyme."

Sticklen said Michigan State University has a patent for the Spartan technology and that 18 companies have bid on the right to license, develop and commercialize the trait. The university has not released who has won the right to license the technology.


DuPont pledges $1 million to World Food Prize

Contribution helps establish Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates

- DuPont (press release), Feb. 7, 2008


Des Moines, Iowa - DuPont (NYSE: DD) today announced a $1 million contingent donation to fund the establishment of a permanent home for the World Food Prize in Des Moines. The donation will support the transformation of the former Des Moines Public Library into the Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates and will be administered through DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred.

"The World Food Prize brings much-deserved recognition to those who are saving and improving millions of lives around the globe," said Paul Schickler, Pioneer president and DuPont vice president and general manager. "As a long-time major supporter of the Prize, we are pleased to help establish a permanent home honoring those who have dedicated their lives to saving others."

DuPont and its Pioneer business have been a major sponsor of the World Food Prize since 1996 through financial grants, hosting of the World Food Prize Youth Symposium and annual sponsorships including a sponsor program for two students in the Borlaug-Ruan International Intern program.

"Pioneer Hi-Bred has been a strong friend and consistent supporter of World Food Prize programs, including our Youth Institute and international internships," said Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation. "On behalf of all of us at the foundation, I want to express our profound appreciation for this very special contribution as well as for all of their past support."

When completed, the Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates will serve as a historical center to recognize the achievements of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Iowa native Norman Borlaug as well as past World Food Prize laureates. It will host the annual World Food Prize International Symposium, which brings together dignitaries, scientists, nutritionists and other food and nutrition experts from around the world to discuss and share ideas about food and agricultural issues. It also will be the new home for the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute. The stately building sits on the bank of the Des Moines River in downtown Des Moines. It served as the Des Moines Public Library from 1903 until 2006.

The World Food Prize is the foremost international award recognizing -- without regard to race, religion, nationality, or political beliefs -- the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.


First documented case of pest resistance to biotech cotton

- University of Arizona via PhysOrg.com, Feb. 7, 2008


A pest insect known as bollworm is the first to evolve resistance in the field to plants modified to produce an insecticide called Bt, according to a new research report. Bt-resistant populations of bollworm, Helicoverpa zea, were found in more than a dozen crop fields in Mississippi and Arkansas between 2003 and 2006.

"What we're seeing is evolution in action," said lead researcher Bruce Tabashnik. "This is the first documented case of field-evolved resistance to a Bt crop."

Bt crops are so named because they have been genetically altered to produce Bt toxins, which kill some insects. The toxins are produced in nature by the widespread bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, hence the abbreviation Bt.

The bollworm resistance to Bt cotton was discovered when a team of University of Arizona entomologists analyzed published data from monitoring studies of six major caterpillar pests of Bt crops in Australia, China, Spain and the U.S. The data documenting bollworm resistance were first collected seven years after Bt cotton was introduced in 1996.

"Resistance is a decrease in pest susceptibility that can be measured over human experience," said Tabashnik, professor and head of UA's entomology department and an expert in insect resistance to insecticides. "When you use an insecticide to control a pest, some populations eventually evolves resistance."

The researchers write in their report that Bt cotton and Bt corn have been grown on more than 162 million hectares (400 million acres) worldwide since 1996, "generating one of the largest selections for insect resistance ever known."

Even so, the researchers found that most caterpillar pests of cotton and corn remained susceptible to Bt crops.

"The resistance occurred in one particular pest in one part of the U.S.," Tabashnik said. "The other major pests attacking Bt crops have not evolved resistance. And even most bollworm populations have not evolved resistance."

The field outcomes refute some experts' worst-case scenarios that predicted pests would become resistant to Bt crops in as few as three years, he said.

"The only other case of field-evolved resistance to Bt toxins involves resistance to Bt sprays," Tabashnik said. He added that such sprays have been used for decades, but now represent a small proportion of the Bt used against crop pests.

The bollworm is a major cotton pest in the southeastern U.S. and Texas, but not in Arizona. The major caterpillar pest of cotton in Arizona is a different species known as pink bollworm, Pectinophora gossypiella, which has remained susceptible to the Bt toxin in biotech cotton.

Tabashnik and his colleagues' article, "Insect resistance to Bt crops: evidence versus theory," will be published in the February issue of Nature Biotechnology. His co-authors are Aaron J. Gassmann, a former UA postdoctoral fellow now an assistant professor at Iowa State University; David W. Crowder, a UA doctoral student; and Yves Carrière, a UA professor of entomology. Tabashnik and Carrière are members of UA's BIO5 Institute.

"Our research shows that in Arizona, Bt cotton reduces use of broad-spectrum insecticides and increases yield," said Carrière. Such insecticides kill both pest insects and beneficial insects.

To delay resistance, non-Bt crops are planted near Bt crops to provide "refuges" for susceptible pests. Because resistant insects are rare, the only mates they are likely to encounter would be susceptible insects from the refuges. The hybrid offspring of such a mating generally would be susceptible to the toxin. In most pests, offspring are resistant to Bt toxins only if both parents are resistant.

In bollworm, however, hybrid offspring produced by matings between susceptible and resistant moths are resistant. Such a dominant inheritance of resistance was predicted to make resistance evolve faster.

The UA researchers found that bollworm resistance evolved fastest in the states with the lowest abundance of refuges.

The field outcomes documented by the global monitoring data fit the predictions of the theory underlying the refuge strategy, Tabashnik said.

Although first-generation biotech cotton contained only one Bt toxin called Cry1Ac, a new variety contains both Cry1Ac and a second Bt toxin, Cry2Ab. The combination overcomes pests that are resistant to just one toxin.

The next steps, Tabashnik said, include conducting research to understand inheritance of resistance to Cry2Ab and developing designer toxins to kill pests resistant to Cry1Ac.


Guest ed. note: Publications around the world are reporting on (or gloating over) this press release. Here's a brief sample: "Are Biotech Crops Failing?" (Daily Green); "First Proof that Evolution Can Work Faster Than Genetic Engineering" (io9); "GM crops fail to deter pests" (Financial Times, UK); "GM Cotton Gets First Resistant Pest" (Science a Gogo); "Pest resistance developing in biotech cotton" (Feedstuffs); and "Pest evolves resistance to GM crops" (Independent, UK). A closer look at the press release reveals *no* hard data, nor any unambiguous claims, which support a conclusion that "pest resistance to biotech cotton" has been "documented." There is a wide variation in the susceptibility of insect pests to Bt, which means that conclusively establishing "resistance" in a population would have to deal with the fact that they're *all* resistant to some extent, anyway. (Sort of like "water resistant" watches.) For now, this news doesn't look as alarming as some believe (or prefer) it to be.


How a night of passion between a sheep and a goat led to Lisa the GEEP

- London Daily Mail, Feb. 8, 2008


What do you get when you cross a sheep with a goat? You get Lisa the Geep.

When a farmer's sheep was impregnated by a randy Billy goat he knew the offspring would be something special.

Klaus Exsternbrink, who lives in Schwerte, northern Germany, is the proud owner of Lisa the "Schiege" - an extremely rare hybrid between the two species.

Goat to be kidding: Lisa the geep with her mother, a sheep, and owner Klaus Exsternbrink

Resembling a lamb in shape and stature the young beast has the colouring, fur and agile back legs of a kid. Lively Lisa was born a month ago and has been happily bounding about he farm ever since.

Until the day of her birth the 59-year-old farmer was unsure that this species could exist.

Lisa was born after a young goat leapt over a fence and mated with a ewe in another field.

Although he has suspicions, the farmer isn't entirely sure which goat is the father.

"Two goats have recently been slaughtered," said Mr Exsternbrink. "One of them was Lisa's father." Lisa's mother seems unfazed by her offspring's 'exotic' look and has raised her happily so far.

Exsternbrink says: "Lisa enjoys drinking and is very eager. She's the only new baby so she benefits from absolute protection from the sheep and goats."

The farmer has notified a specialist Animal Medical School in Hanover.

At the Hanover School Lisa will undergo genetic tests to determine her hybrid status.

"These whims of nature are extremely rare," says Professor Karl-Heinz Waldmann from the Hanover School.

"But goats are known for their strong sex drive," he added.

So far it's unknown whether Lisa will produce the milk of a goat or a sheep but the farmer thinks it will be drinkable.

"We will find out what the milk and cheese tastes like in the autumn," he said Lisa has the potential to be rather a confused animal.

The farmer separates his goats and sheep with a long fence and he's unsure where to put this new creature. "I guess Lisa will decide with her heart which side of the fence she wants to live on," he said.


Picture: Lisa the geep with her mother, a sheep, and owner Klaus Exsternbrink: http://img.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2008/02_01/sheepBARCROFT_468x347.jpg


Guest ed. note: Given the editorial standards of the Daily Mail, it's surprising they didn't line up experts willing to "call on" the government to establish minimum distances separating the sheep from the goats, or banning one of them altogether, because the attempt at separation proved that "coexistence is impossible"? Will Lisa become a 'supergeep' or "genetic bully, crowding out biodiversity?" One could go on a bit along those lines.

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