Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





February 13, 2008


Go-aheads for wheat; Bt resistance questioned; FOE blows smoke


* Growers release brakes on biotech wheat
* Brazil permits new GM corn varieties
* Swiss permit GM wheat trials
* ISAAA: GM crop use to double by 2015
* PG Economics welcomes new ISAAA brief
* Bollworm Bt resistance questioned
* Collaboration to Accelerate Crop Development
* Transgenic plants offer safer human collagen
* French ban on GM corn strain becomes official
* Call for open debate on GM foods
* EC Proposals to authorise soybean and cotton
* EC requires certification for Chinese rice
* Jury chosen in biotech arson case


Growers release brakes on biotech wheat

- Scott Yates, Capital Press, Feb. 7, 2008


Washington, D.C. - The Joint Biotech Committee of U.S. Wheat Associates and the National Association of Wheat Growers on Tuesday revealed an industry eager to get back in the biotech game.

Committee members from the two wheat organizations, in Washington, D.C., for their annual meet, said they would even support the release of a genetically modified wheat trait in the U.S. before it is introduced in Australia or Canada.

In the past, a unilateral release was viewed as a major hurdle because of the perceived marketing advantage a non-genetically modified wheat supplier might have in a market like Japan, where the technology is viewed with suspicion.

Although the biotech committee would prefer a "simultaneous release," it is no longer a condition. Al Slogen, a North Dakota wheat grower who serves on the biotech panel, said the condition has been a burden weighing down tech providers' ability to move forward.

"We can't have anchors that tell the tech industry 'here we go again'," he said.

Sherman Reese, former president of NAWG and an Oregon wheat commissioner, agreed. Speaking from the audience, he said it's time to see what's possible, rather than being hamstrung out of fear of consequences.

"My take is there is not a lot of concern about biotech wheat. The concern is that there is wheat at all," he said.

The current mood is a far cry from the conflicted attitude that existed when Monsanto was trying to get the industry behind the release of Roundup Ready wheat at the turn of the century. Back then, U.S. Wheat Associates warned of markets being lost and backed up its claim with surveys of buyers who said they would cease buying all U.S. wheat if a genetically modified wheat trait were commercialized.

Monsanto ultimately shelved its Roundup Ready wheat technology and shut down its wheat research four years ago. Since then, wheat acreage has continued to lose ground against soybeans and corn, crops that saw single-gene genetically modified traits introduced in 1996. Stacked traits involving multiple genes are now being planted.

Syngenta has put a fusarium-resistant biotech trait through field trials, but it has not started the commercialization process.

BASF is said to be in the midst of developing a drought-tolerant biotech variety, but an invitation for company officials to meet with the biotech committee was politely rejected. An e-mail explained the research is in a very early phase and "we are not in the position to talk about target markets and business potential at the moment."

Michael Doane, who served as Monsanto's point man during its Roundup Ready wheat push, sat in on the biotech committee's meeting. Although he has a different assignment within the company now, the chairman of the biotech committee, Joe Kejr, asked for his input.

"It's worthwhile to consider what the technification of other crops will do to wheat over the next eight to 12 years. Drought tolerance, nitrogen use efficiency, better yield - these things are all going to come in other crops," Doane said, adding the wheat industry needs to send a signal that the crop is open for investment. "That is the most important thing you can do now."

Several members of the biotech committee plan to visit BASF and Bayer headquarters in North Carolina in the next couple of months to talk with top executives. Although the message of cooperation is also being communicated to Monsanto, there was no discussion at the biotech committee of revisiting Roundup Ready wheat.

The North American Millers Association, which has expressed concern over genetically modified organisms in the past, feels comfortable with the direction growers are taking.

Betsy Faga, president of the North American Millers Association, said millers, bakers and food manufacturers all recognize what is happening to prices and supplies and what it means.

"I don't think anybody has the feeling that producers are over here and we're back over here," she said.

Vince Peterson, vice president of overseas operations for U.S. Wheat Associates, said current high prices have given his organization a particular opportunity to get the biotech message out to customers. "We do have their attention. This is a good time to talk about it," he said, adding that in every meeting the organization attends, the need for biotechnology to be in farmers' toolbox is incorporated into supply anddemand and price outlook presentations.


Brazil gives final permit for GMO corn varieties

- Roberto Samora and Inae Riveras, Reuters, Feb. 12, 2008


SAO PAULO - Brazil's National Biosafety Council (CNBS) gave the final clearance on Tuesday for two varieties of genetically modified corn for commercial use.

The varieties were insect-resistant MON 810 produced by Monsanto and Liberty Link made by Bayer CropScience, which is resistant to the herbicide glufosinate-ammonium.

"From the science and technology point of view, it was considered that the approved seeds are safe for human and animal consumption, and for the environment," Brazil's science minister, Sergio Rezende, told reporters.

The varieties had been approved by Brazil's biosafety regulator CTNBio in 2007, but their use still depended on the council's decision.

These were the first GMOs to receive final clearance for commercial use in Brazil since 2005, when the government passed a new biosafety law which created the CNBS.

Composed by 11 ministries, the council is responsible for the social-economical analysis of GMOs while CTNBio considers technical aspects.

Environmentalists and consumer groups resisted for years the growing and selling of GMOs in Brazil. But Monsanto's GMO Roundup Ready soybean and Bollgard cotton varieties have been legal in Brazil for some years now.

It is not clear whether the approved corn varieties would still face legal actions.


Swiss grant permission to sow GM wheat in Zurich

- Translated by Mark Inglin, CheckBiotech, Feb. 12, 2008


BERN, Switzerland - Genetically modified wheat can be sowed experimentally in the spring at the Agricultural Research Institute of Zurich-Reckenholz.

The Swiss Federal Department of the Environment (Bundesamt fuer Umwelt - "BAFU") has approved applications by the University of Zurich and the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology).

As reported by BAFU, researchers have provided the required evidence that antibiotic-resistance genes are not found in the two varieties of wheat. In addition, emergency planning has been completed.

The applications made by the University of Zurich pertain to the investigation of wheat plants with increased specific resistance to powdery mildew fungal disease as well as to crosses of wheat with the wild grass, Aegilops cylindrica. The ETH wants to experimentally plant wheat with increased fungal resistance.

BAFU conditionally approved the application on September 3, 2007. Requirements included, among others, providing details of the experimental arrangement and proof that the plants contain no antibiotic-resistance genes. The results of preliminary experiments at the vegetation center in Reckenholz must be presented.

Under these conditions, the sowing of genetically engineered wheat can start at Zurich-Reckenholz. The BAFU decision is a particularly bitter pill for Greenpeace to swallow. The environmental organization has given notice of a supervisory grievance.

Greenpeace leveled the criticism that, "We only know a part of what they are approving. The approval that BAFU has now definitely granted is based on information that is incomplete. 'Important data' were missing when the application was submitted this past May."

Greenpeace has received support from the Small Farmers Association. In a communiqué, it has signed on to the supervisory grievance. Also dissatisfied with the decision are Bio Suisse and Pro Natura. Whether they will initiate legal measures is, however, still uncertain.

The release of genetically enhanced organisms is subject to stringent conditions. The research is being permitted, despite a five-year moratorium placed on genetic modification that was approved on November 27, 2005 by the Swiss general public.


Guest ed. note: The identity of the original document is unknown, but the relevant BAFU press release can be found at http://www.bafu.admin.ch/dokumentation/medieninformation/00962/index.html?lang=de&msg-id=17201


GM crop use to double by 2015, study predicts

- Salamander Davoudi, Financial Times (UK), Feb. 13, 2008


Agricultural use of genetically modified crops across the world has increased almost 70-fold in the past 10 years, breaking the 100m-hectare mark, and is set to double by 2015, according to a study released today.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Application, a non-profit organisation, estimates that GM crops were last year planted on 114m hectares (282m acres) worldwide by more than 12m farmers, a 12 per cent increase on the previous year.

"About 70 per cent of the world's poor are associated with agriculture and about 50 per cent of these people are subsistence farmers," said Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA. "Increasing the income of small and resource-poor farmers contributes to the poverty alleviation of a large majority of the world's poorest people."

The global market for GM seeds and traits - the GM portion of the technology added to seed - is growing at 12 per cent a year as farmers look to boost yields. Biotechnology has been proven to improve yields per hectare in some crops mainly by offering protection from insect damage and disease.

The US and Argentina have given over the most land for growing GM crops, with 57.7m and 19m hectares respectively. India this year overtook China to become the fifth largest producer in the world.

The ISAAA, which has been criticised by environmental groups for bias towards biotechnology companies, predicts that almost 100m farmers will plant 200m hectares of such crops in 45 countries by 2015.

"There will be a doubling of the number of countries involved, a doubling of the number of hectares and the number of farmers involved will rise almost 10-fold, " said Mr James.

"At a time when you have soaring commodity prices and sky-rocketing energy prices, you want a technology that will increase the supply side and bring down the cost of production and this is what you have in this technology."

Twenty three countries at present plant GM crops, with a further 29 allowing imports for food or animal feed. According to the report, countries that could adopt GM crops in the next one or two years include Vietnam, Egypt and Burkina Faso.

Opponents have dubbed GM crops as "Frankenfood", reflecting their concerns about the safety of such crops, which have been planted for only 12 years, and the possible impact on human health.

The GM market - primarily made up of soybean, -cotton, canola and corn seeds - will this year be valued at $6.9bn, (Euros4.66bn Pounds3.5bn) according to Crop-nosis, an Edinburgh-based consultancy.

The GM seed industry is dominated by Monsanto, the US agribusiness, whose seeds are planted on more than 90 per cent of global biotech acreage.

In Europe, only one product - a pest-resistant maize - has been approved for cultivation. Austria and Hungary have banned even that and France is set to follow suit. Biotechnology companies complain that European politicians have based their decisions on popular opinion rather than science.

Others argue that there is little point in approving foods that the public would not buy. Polls have shown seven in 10 Europeans would not eat GM food.


PG Economics welcomes new ISAAA brief:

Global status of commercialised biotech crops 2007

- PG Economics Limited (press release), Feb. 12, 2008

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) will soon release its annual status report on global adoption of agricultural biotechnology traits. It is to be expected that the report will confirm trends from other national sources that show yet another significant annual increase in the rate of global plantings of biotech trait crops, providing clear evidence that this green technology is popular with millions of farmers because it continues to deliver important economic, environmental and health benefits.

At the same time, Friends of the Earth (FOE) will release a report Who Benefits from GM Crops? The Rise in Pesticide Use, that makes a series of inaccurate and incorrect claims about the global impact of GM technology.

As authors of a number of peer reviewed published reports and papers on the impact of agricultural biotechnology, PG Economics provides below a summary of key real impacts of the technology and comments on the main claims made by the FOE report.

The real impact of GM crop technology

1. Peer reviewed research in scientific journals consistently shows that agricultural biotechnology has delivered substantial economic and environmental advantages. In the first ten years of commercial use, incomes of the 10.25 million farmers using the technology increased by over $27 billion and pesticide use is 6.9% lower (a saving of 224 million kg of active ingredient) than it would otherwise have been if this technology had not been used. The reductions in the use of insecticides and herbicides, coupled with a switch to more environmentally benign herbicides, have delivered significant net environmental gains. Important savings in carbon dioxide emissions were also made, equivalent to removing over 4 million cars from the roads in 2005.

2. In 2005, the majority of both the farm income gains (55%) and benefits from reduced pesticide use (54%) went to farmers in developing countries. 90% of the farmers benefiting from using the technology are small, resource-poor farmers in developing countries like China and India.

3. The total cost paid by farmers to access GM technology (seed premium) was equal to an average of only 26% of the total farm income benefit - this has been a major reason why GM technology has been so popular at the farm level. For farmers in developing countries the total cost was equal to only 13% of the total farm income gains they derived, compared to 38% in developed countries.

4. Biotech crops have also delivered a number of other more intangible benefits to farmers. These include:

- Herbicide tolerant crops have facilitated a switch from a plough-based to a no/reduced tillage production system which has helped reduce soil erosion (and cut carbon dioxide emissions)

- Insect resistant crops have resulted in improved quality of food (eg, less cancer-causing mycotoxins in corn) and reduced exposure to insecticides for many farm workers in developing countries where use of protective equipment has traditionally been limited

- Shortening the growing season allowing some farmers to plant a second crop in the same season (eg, maize following cotton in India, soybeans following wheat in South America).

Inaccurate and incorrect claims by FOE

1. The FOE report makes numerous inaccurate and incorrect claims. Information sources cited are not based on peer reviewed scientific journals/research, are not representative of actual impacts, are often based on inappropriate assumptions and use of official (eg, USDA pesticide usage) statistical data and show poor understanding of agronomic and socio-economic issues. Much of the material drawn on is also out of date.

2. Pesticide use has not increased as a result of the adoption of biotech crops - it has fallen significantly relative to levels of use that would have occurred without using biotechnology. More importantly there have been significant environmental gains associated with this reduction in pesticide usage and switches to use of more environmentally benign herbicides - see for example Brookes & Barfoot (2007) GM crops: the first ten years - global socio-economic and environmental impacts in Agbioforum 9 (3) on www.agbioforum.org.

3. GM crops have made important contributions to alleviating hunger and poverty in developing countries. The majority of the farm income gains from using the technology have gone to small farmers in developing countries directly improving their standards of living and family level disposable income

4. GM herbicide tolerant (GM HT) technology has mainly delivered farm income benefits from lower costs of production. Yield impacts have generally been neutral and yield improvement has not been a specific target of the technology - nevertheless, in some countries positive yield effects have occurred, eg, GM HT soybeans in Romania and Mexico.

5. GM insect resistant (GM IR) technology has delivered important farm income benefits mainly from higher yields, especially in developing countries. In developed countries gains from this technology have tended to more associated with lowering costs of production (reduced use of insecticides) and less prominent (but still positive) yield gains

6. Farmers are not being subjected to limited seed choice and high prices. The rapid adoption of GM technology reflects the significant benefits derived from using the technology relative to the additional costs paid for the technology (see Brookes & Barfoot referred to above). If the technology failed to deliver benefits, farmers would not use the technology. There remains plenty of choice in seed markets and the dominance of seeds containing biotech traits in some countries reflects market demand at the farm level. If competition is perceived to be limited in any seed market this is an issue for competition policy not technology approval legislation.

7. There is a growing and substantial body of objective and representative evidence assessing the impact of biotech crops published in peer reviewed journals. The findings consistently show that on average there have been important economic and environmental benefits associated with use of the technology. None of these have been used or cited by FOE - for those wishing to read further, look for example, at the references in Brookes & Barfoot (2007) referred above.

8. There has not been a steep rise in the development of weed resistance to glyphosate as a result of the adoption and use of herbicide tolerant crops. All weeds have the ability to develop resistance to all herbicides and there are hundreds of resistant weed species confirmed in the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds (www.weedscience.org). Reports of herbicide resistant weeds pre-date the use of GM herbicide tolerant crops by decades.

Currently, there are 13 weed species that are resistant to glyphosate, compared to over 90 resistant to ALS herbicides, or over 60 weed species resistant to triazine herbicides such as atrazine. Several of the confirmed glyphosate resistant weed species have been found in areas where no GM herbicide tolerant crops have been grown. Control of glyphosate resistant weeds is achieved the same way as other herbicide resistant weeds, via the use of other herbicides in mixtures or sequences.

For additional information: contact Graham Brookes on 00 44 1531 650123 or graham.brookes@btinternet.com

Key reference material: GM crops: the first ten years - global socio-economic and environmental impacts (2007) in Agbioforum 9 (3) on www.agbioforum.org or www.pgeconomics.co.uk


Guest ed. note: The FOE receives nearly half of its money from the European Commission--nearly euros800,000 (>$US1 million), last year. See, "EU Commission pays group to lobby Brussels," Martin Banks, The Telegraph (UK), Aug. 20, 2007, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/08/17/weu217.xml One has to wonder if the EC is happy with this use of public funds. Actually, it might be very happy.


Bollworms resistant to Bt? Question arises with publication of study.

- Owen Taylor, AgFax.com, Feb. 7, 2008


A University of Arizona researcher has declared that populations of cotton bollworms in Arkansas and Mississippi are now resistant to first-generation Bt cotton.

"What we're seeing is evolution in action," said Bruce Tabashnik, a University of Arizona entomologist and the lead researcher in a study about potential bollworm resistance worldwide. "This is the first documented case of field-evolved resistance to a Bt crop."

But an Arkansas entomologists --­ whose data was the basis of the conclusion --­ said today that the data does not support that kind of sweeping conclusion.

The Arkansas entomologist, Randy Luttrell, said he "respectfully disagrees" with Tabashnik's interpretation.

Questions about Bt resistance were raised late last year when Tabashnik and Luttrell appeared in a symposium on the subject at the Entomological Society of American national meeting in California. Today, a press release about the Arizona study was issued ahead of an article that will appear in the February issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Tabashnik is one of the article's authors and is listed as a lead researcher in the study.

In the study, Arizona entomologists analyzed published data from monitoring studies of six major caterpillar pests of Bt crops in Australia, China, Spain and the U.S., including Luttrell's data.

Luttrell said today that the study compared bollworm populations from 1992 and 2002. The 1992 data were based on work Luttrell did while at Mississippi State University, while the 2002 data came from work he and Ibrahim Ali did at the University of Arkansas, where he now is a faculty member.

"The response (survival rate of bollworms) was greater in 2002, which at face value would make it appear that there might be resistance," Luttrell said today. "But when you look closer, there are other important factors that have to be taken into account."

Among them, he said, are:

* Bt cotton's overall weakness on bollworms. "From the start, Bt cotton (Monsanto's Bollgard varieties) really didn't provide control of bollworms, and it was clear from the beginning that there were insects that survived," he said. "We saw that effect several years before Bt cotton was commercially introduced."

* Highly variable populations. Bollworm populations in some seasons and/or geographic areas seem to be more able to "slip through" Bt cotton, Luttrell said. Even in 1992, a population of bollworms identified in Texas had the ability to escape the effects of Bt cotton at a rate comparable to some "problem" populations found since 2000.

* The role of "avoidance" behavior or mechanisms. Soon after the commercialization of Bt cotton, entomologists and consultants found larger, surviving worms in blooms and under dried bloom tags where less Bt toxin tended to be expressed. Researchers have debated whether this is simply an indication of where some moths lay eggs or if some worms --­ after initial feeding --­ move from an area with concentrated toxin to a part of the plant with lower Bt levels.

"Roger Leonard (Louisiana State University entomologist) finds that some worms will take a bite in the upper part of the plant, don't like what they've found, and then spin down with their silking gland into an open flower," said Gus Lorenz, Arkansas Extension Entomologist. "We know there's less expression down there. That's well documented. So, how much survivability is due to increased tolerance and how much is due to some type of behavioral modification? That question has yet to be answered. I do know that we've had bollworms going through Bt cotton ever since it came on the market."

Luttrell today referred to Tabashnik "as probably the world's leading authority on Bt resistance, so when he writes a paper like this, it has impact." And, he added, "An honest interpretation of the data cannot eliminate the possibility (of resistance). In other words, you can't look at the data and say, 'This hasn't happened.'"

But, Luttrell continued, questions about population variability and behavior traits make it difficult for him to conclude that bollworms are resistant to the Bt toxin.

Luttrell said that, in fact, some inherited genetic trait may be at play. But it can't be determined with the data on hand whether this trait has to do with the insect's tolerance to Bt, it's avoidance behavior or other survival traits.

The subject gets cloudier when trying to compare lab-based analysis to real-world conditions, he added.

"Resistance in the laboratory may or may not translate to field resistance," he said, referring to comparisons made of collected populations. "With bollworm and Bt, one should consider the effects of fitness costs and large populations from non-cotton hosts that may work to dilute field resistance, even if the insect has the genetic capacity for resistance."

In the report, Tabashnik and his colleagues said that they believe Bt resistance is limited worldwide. The researchers noted that Bt cotton and Bt corn have been grown on more than 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.


DuPont and Precision BioSciences Collaborate to Accelerate Crop Product Development

Genome Engineering Technology to Bring New Choices, More Options to Global Agriculture

- Precision Biosciences (press release), Feb. 11, 2008


DES MOINES, Iowa, and RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C., -- DuPont and Precision BioSciences, Inc., today announced a technology collaboration to bring higher-yielding agricultural products to the market faster. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

The agreement provides DuPont business Pioneer Hi -Bred rights to Precision's Directed Nuclease Editor (DNE) technology to introduce and stack multiple genes that accelerate product development in corn, soybeans and other important agricultural crops. The technology aids in the discovery of new traits and allows Pioneer scientists to insert, remove and stack multiple traits at preselected sites in the plant genome, shortening the time it takes to bring new, high-value products to market.

"To meet growing demand for food, feed and fuel around the world, we must increase agricultural productivity," said William S. Niebur, vice president - DuPont Crop Genetics Research and Development. "DNE technology gives us an important tool to efficiently develop and rapidly deploy improved traits such as drought resistance, pest resistance and increased yield into the Pioneer lineup."

"DuPont is firmly established as a world leader in developing and supplying seed and grain products, and we are pleased to have such a strong partner in this field, " said Matthew Kane, Precision BioSciences CEO. "Precision's DNE technology is becoming the gold standard in genome engineering and we believe it will greatly enhance the ability to introduce, remove or regulate genes of choice."

Precision's mission is to utilize its engineered endonucleases to become the world leader in the field of genomic molecular biology. Precision's proprietary DNE technology enables the production of custom-made homing endonucleases that can be used to safely target site -specific DNA breaks for genome modifications. Precision BioSciences is focused on developing its DNE technology to allow for the identification, insertion, removal or regulation of virtually any gene for therapeutic, agricultural and diagnostic applications.


Israeli transgenic plants offer safer human collagen

- Nicky Blackburn, Israel21c, Feb. 12, 2008


The plants growing at CollPlant's greenhouse in the north of Israel look much like any other tobacco plants. Appearances, however, are deceptive. These plants, worth millions of dollars when they are harvested, are packed full of recombinant human collagen for use in aesthetic and reconstructive surgery.

It sounds more like science fiction than real life, and even Prof. Oded Shoseyov, who helped create the genetically engineered plants, acknowledges that it is unique. While other researchers have managed to insert human genes into plants, they have only managed to introduce one gene. Shoseyov is the first in the world to introduce five different human genes into a single plant cell to create a superior fully functional human collagen product.

Collagen is one of the most important proteins in the human body. Twenty-five percent of all dry material in the body is made of collagen. Tendons are almost 100% collagen, skin 70%, and bone 50%. "It's the scaffold of the human body," Shoseyov, CollPlant's chief scientist, tells ISRAEL21c.

As a result collagen today is in great demand for anything from aesthetic facial procedures - such as lip augmentation, or wrinkle treatment, to plastic surgery, tissue regeneration, wound and burn healing, and orthopedics. The facial aesthetic industry alone is expected to be worth $1 billion by the year 2010, while sales of collagen-based products are estimated to be now worth more than $10 billion worldwide.

Until recently the majority of collagen used in the market came from cows or pigs. The problem with this, however, is the growing concern over infectious diseases passed on from animals to humans, in particular Mad Cow Disease. In certain countries like Japan it is now illegal to use collagen from animals, while in January last year, the FDA suggested that it may limit the use of bovine derived collagen in medical devices.

Another source of collagen is from cadavers - again problematic. "We know the person died, but we don't know from what," says Shoseyov. Cadavers also provide only a very limited source of collagen.

The research behind CollPlant was developed in the Rehovot lab of Shoseyov, a professor at the Faculty of Agriculture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Initially he had no plans to get involved in this field, but a few years ago was approached by an Israeli company looking to create a new source of human collagen. "They had identified a huge need for such a product in the market," says Shoseyov.

The project never took off, the company moved into a different area and Shoseyov, who is renowned for his innovations in the fields of plant transformation systems and protein engineering, forgot about the idea. Then four years ago he was approached by the management of the Meytav Technological Enterprises Innovation Center, a technology incubator in Kiryat Shmona. The incubator was looking for projects to turn into viable companies and Shoseyov remembered the earlier idea.

The incubator liked the proposal and gave Shoseyov seed funding to start a new company, CollPlant. "One year later we had collagen in plants," says Shoseyov. "It was a very concerted effort."

CollPlant spent three years at the Meytav incubator during which time it also received angel investment of just under $1 million. In 2006, CollPlant received another $4.5 million in funding from Docor International Management, Pontifax Fund - founded by Eli Horovitz, and investor Moshe Arkin. Today the company is in the process of raising $10 million from new and original Israeli and US investors.

The headquarters of CollPlant, which employs 35 people, is now based at the Weizmann Science Park in Rehovot, while the greenhouses of 1,000 square meters remain in the north. The company can produce tens of thousands of transgenic plants per year. The collagen is extracted from the leaves of the tobacco plants, which are harvested every five to six weeks.

There are many benefits to CollPlant's plant-derived collagen according to Shoseyov, including the fact that it is free of any potential viral hazards. "It's safer, more cost-effective, and much more homogenous than used material extracted from tissue," he claims. "It's like building a wall from bricks. You can take apart an old wall and use the bricks from it to make a new wall, but if you manufacture new bricks and use these to make a wall it will be much nicer, stronger and more homogenous."

In addition, while most people tolerate collagen from animals, some have an allergic reaction. That's a problem because it means that everyone must do a pretest to see how their immune system reacts. This normally takes a month. "With facial aesthetics the client wants it now. They don't want to wait. For burns patients it's ever worse. They could die if they have to wait a month," says Shoseyov.

CollPlant expects to begin selling its collagen by the end of this year. Clinical trials are not necessary, to get FDA and CE approval, the company needs only to carry out trials in toxicology and safety, which have already been successfully carried out according to Shoseyov. Testing of CollPlant's collagen has shown that it is similar to type 1 collagen naturally present in human tissues. "Our data shows it's very safe and should be no problem to use as a replacement of today's collagen," says Shoseyov.

The company is now negotiating joint venture co-development agreements with strategic partners. By the end of this year, Shoseyov believes the company will have signed technology transfer agreements with two companies, one large US company, and a smaller Israeli one.

"We have already given samples and received positive reactions," says Shoseyov. "We are confident we will sign agreements this year."

First applications are likely to be in facial aesthetics, specifically wrinkles and lip augmentation, followed by scaffolding for bone repair.

In the future, the company also intends to start developing its own unique products in the field of wound healing and orthopedics.

"This isn't just a commercial achievement, it's also a scientific one," says Shoseyov. "This will have a big impact on the market. We are getting so many calls and approaches from companies all over the world who are interested in using our collagen. The industry is looking for an alternative and we are providing it."


French ban on GM corn strain becomes official

- AFP via France24, Feb. 9, 2008


After months of bitter debate, the French Agriculture Minister signed the order banning a specific strain of GM corn produced by US company Monsanto from France for good.

France officially imposed Saturday a ban on a strain of genetically modified (GM) corn produced by the US agribusiness giant Monsanto, with the publication of an agriculture ministry order in the state's official journal.

"The growing of corn seeds ... derived from genetically modified corn strain MON810 is prohibited on [French] territory," read the order signed by Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier.

Monsanto's 810 maize had been the only GM crop grown in France, but the French government last month began moving to ban its further use after a watchdog authority said it had "serious doubts" about the product in a report that has been controversial even among the scientists who put it together.

The agriculture ministry order said the ban would remain in force until a decision was taken whether to renew the authorisation for the GM strain to be sold on the French market.

French corn farmers have already said the planned to challenge the ban in court.

With the law requiring a hearing within three weeks, corn producers could still plant the variety of GM corn this spring if France's highest administrative court supports their appeal, said Luc Esprit, director of the Association General of Corn Producers.

The association estimates that without a ban some 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of the GM corn would be planted this year, up from 22,000 hectares in 2007.

It estimates the ban would cause farmers losses of some 10 million euros (15 million dollars).


Creed calls for open debate on genetically modified foods

FG Agriculture Spokesperson seeks honesty and clarity in face of food security issues

- Fine Gael (press release), Feb. 8, 2008


Fine Gael Agriculture spokesperson Michael Creed T.D. has called for an open and frank debate on the issue of GM foods. Speaking at the AGM of Macroom Fine Gael, Deputy Creed has called for an end to the scaremongering and lies on the issue and is seeking civilised discussions on the matter.

Addressing the meeting Deputy Creed said:

"Whether we like it or not we have to face up to the reality of GM foods sooner rather than later. We are living in a time where populations are swelling and global climate changes are having an adverse affect on crop yields. Drought is prevalent and with the advent of biofuels prices of various different crops are becoming unsustainable. Food security is going to be a massive issue in the future and it would be remiss of us as a country not to debate and probe the issues now.

"Last year agriculture took a Euros160 million hit due to the EU Commission dragging its heels in permitting the usage of certain GM products in the production of Animal Feeds. All the while the EU was importing animals from other regions that are being fed on the very same products that the EU was banning here. This situation serves nobody, neither the farmer, who is losing financially, nor the consumer, who is being misled.

"In Ireland - our new Fianna Fail/Green Government is pursuing an aspiration of a GM Free Island. This despite the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, The European Food Safety Authority and the Federal Drugs Authority in the US stating that the use of GM products is in no way harmful. There is an urgent need to weigh up both sides of the argument in order to prevent our farmers being left behind in world markets. Likewise consumers deserve the opportunity to weigh up for themselves the pros and cons of GM products before food prices escalate beyond control.

"There is a moral debate surrounding this issue also. If there are people starving in famine stricken countries, who can be fed by GM crops that can be grown in an otherwise inhospitable climate, then these people should not be denied the right to life. All in all, the issue is a huge one which needs honest debate and not sensationalism from any quarter. It is ironic how those who accept the science behind global warming as gospel are often the first to deny the growing scientific support for genetically modified foods."


Proposals to authorise soybean A2704-12 and cotton LL25 to be transmitted to the Council

- European Commission (press release), Feb. 12, 2008


Brussels - The Commission presented today to the Member States proposals for the authorisation of genetically modified soybean A2704-12 and cotton LL25 for import and processing and food and feed use.

The Member States returned no definitive opinion, either for or against the proposals, during a meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. The Commission tabled the proposals following applications submitted by Bayer CropScience and favourable scientific assessments from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which addressed all safety concerns. The assessments concluded that there is no risk to human or animal health or to the environment.

According to the relevant procedures the Commission must now transmit the file to the Council for a decision. If the Council does not reach a position within three months, the proposals will be sent back to the Commission for final adoption.

For more information, see: http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/biotechnology/index_en.htm


Commission requires certification for Chinese rice products to stop unauthorised GMO from entering the EU

- European Commission (press release), Feb. 12, 2008


Brussels - The European Commission decided today to require compulsory certification for the imports of Chinese rice products that could contain the unauthorised GMO Bt63. The decision has been taken after rice products -originating in, or consigned from, China and containing the unauthorised genetically modified rice "Bt 63"- were discovered in the EU market between 2006 and 2007. Despite measures announced by the Chinese authorities in 2007, alerts concerning the presence of the unauthorised genetically modified rice "Bt 63" were reported until late 2007. The emergency measures adopted by the Commission today mean that, as of April 15, only consignments of the rice products indicated in a specific Annex of the Decision can enter the EU. These consignments must be tested by an official or accredited laboratory using a specific testing method and accompanied by the analytical report assuring they do not contain Bt63.

Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said: "Under EU food safety legislation, only GMOs, which have undergone a thorough scientific assessment and authorisation procedure, may be put on the EU market. The decision adopted today aims to prevent the unauthorised Bt63 rice from reaching EU consumers, by ensuring that only rice products certified as free from this GMO enter the EU."

China is responsible for ensuring that Bt63 does not enter the EU food chain and that imports are certified as free from this unauthorised GMO. Member State authorities are responsible for controlling the imports at their borders and for preventing any contaminated consignments from being placed on the market. In addition, they should carry out controls on products already on the market, to ensure that they are free from Bt63. Business operators importing rice products from China are also responsible for ensuring that Bt63 does not enter the EU food chain and that imports are certified as free from this unauthorised GMO, in accordance with the EU food law principle that operators are responsible for the safety of the food or feed that they place on the market.

The presence of the unauthorised Bt63 was first discovered in the United Kingdom, France and Germany and notified to the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) in September 2006.

The Chinese competent authorities were immediately requested to provide detailed information concerning the genetic constructs of the unauthorised GMO. In response, the Chinese authorities conducted checks on the cases notified in the RASFF and suspended exports by the enterprises concerned. They also decided to carry out testing on exported rice and rice products and required exporting enterprises to strengthen controls over raw material purchasing.

Despite this first set of measures, a new finding of the unauthorised genetically modified rice "Bt 63" was once again notified through the RASFF in February 2007. The Chinese authorities were immediately informed by the Commission of this new alert and requested to provide additional guarantees. As a result, they decided to strengthen the sampling and testing of rice products and required rice products to be accompanied by an official Chinese Inspection and Quarantine Certificate.

Despite the measures of the Chinese authorities, other alerts concerning the presence of "Bt 63" were subsequently reported. Furthermore, the Chinese authorities were unable to provide the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) with the requested control samples and a protocol of a detection method that were qualitatively and quantitatively appropriate for the JRC to validate the detection method used by the Chinese control authorities.

Against the described background the Commission believes it is now appropriate to proceed immediately with the adoption of emergency measures, which will impose on an important number of rice products originating from China a compulsory certificate, based on a test carried out by an official or accredited laboratory using a specific testing method.

This decision has been submitted to the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health on 12 February 2008 and the Committee gave its favourable opinion. The measures will enter into force from the 15th of April 2008 in order to allow the Member States to take the practical arrangements for its implementation. The situation shall be reassessed after six months. The Commission will continue to actively monitor the situation and adapt the measures if necessary.


Jury chosen in UW arson case

- Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Feb. 11, 2008


A jury was chosen Monday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma in the case of Briana Waters, a 32-year-old mother and violin teacher accused of acting as a lookout in the May 2001 firebombing of the UW Center for Urban Horticulture.

A cell of the Earth Liberation Front/Animal Liberation Front -- characterized as ecoterrorists by the government -- conducted the bombing, under the mistaken belief that the center contained genetically modified trees.

If found guilty of using a destructive device in the arson and other felony charges, Waters -- who has no criminal history -- faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 years in federal prison. Opening arguments are expected Tuesday morning.

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