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Date:

May 29, 2008

Subject:

Nature creates new genes; Improved roots for drought tolerance; RNAi for termites; Greenpeace hurts

 

* DNA Identifies Bean in Patent Dispute
* Single Virulence Gene in Family of Plant Viruses
* Genetic Pesticide for Termites
* Drought Tolerance with Improved Root System
* De Novo Origination of a New Protein-Coding Gene
* The truth about food
* Ideological Debate a Disservice to Africa
* How Greenpeace Hurts the Environment, Endangers Humanity
* Ecochondria Retards Progress in Reducing Hunger
* [Book] Genetic Engineering and the World Trade System
* [Conference] ASPB in Latin America for Annual Meeting

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DNA Fingerprinting Identifies Bean in Patent Dispute

- University of California/Davis (press release), May 27, 2008

http://www-pubcomm.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=8676

A UC Davis plant scientist played a key role in settling a controversial intellectual property dispute that resulted in the recent rejection of a nine-year-old U.S. patent for a common yellow bean that originated in Mexico.

Professor Paul Gepts, an expert on the processes that have shaped the evolution of crop plants, along with colleagues from the University of Padova, Italy, used DNA fingerprinting in 2004 to show that the yellow Enola bean was identical to a bean variety grown in Mexico. The results of that DNA analysis were published in the May-June 2004 issue of the journal Crop Science.

DNA fingerprinting is a process that analyzes fragments of DNA -- molecules that carry the genetic information of living organisms -- to identify the unique genetic makeup of an individual plant or animal.

The story began in the 1990s when a Colorado man purchased some beans in a market in Mexico and brought the beans back to the United States. After growing the beans, which are similar to small kidney beans, for several seasons, the man claimed to have developed a new field bean variety with a distinct pale yellow seed color. He called the variety the "Enola" bean and filed a patent application.

In 1999, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted 20-year patent protection for the Enola variety. But the legality of that patent was later challenged, amid international accusations that the case was a prime example of biopiracy and abuse of intellectual property rights. Five years later, Gepts and colleagues applied DNA technology to genetically determine whether the bean was truly a new variety or simply a new generation of an existing variety.

"The analysis showed that the Enola bean was produced through direct selection of pre-existing yellow-bean varieties from Mexico, most likely a bean known as "Azufrado Peruano 87," said Gepts. "In short, the Enola was not a novel variety and therefore not eligible for patent protection."

The Enola bean patent was rejected by the patent office in 2003 and 2005, but those decisions were appealed to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences. The final rejection of all patent claims for the Enola bean came on April 30 of this year, although the patent owner can still appeal this decision to nullify the patent.

In addition to the DNA fingerprinting by Gepts and colleagues, opponents of the patent pointed out that the Enola bean did not have a unique yellow color that the applicant claimed and that the patent claims were based on research information that was already publicly available in scientific literature.

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Guest ed. note: This proves, once again, that the US Patent & Trademark Office is not complicit in 'biopiracy'.

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Tiny Gene Discovered Hiding in a Major Family of Plant Viruses

- Iowa State University (press release), May 27, 2008

http://www.ag.iastate.edu/aginfo/news_detail.php?var1=644

AMES, Iowa - In an international collaboration, researchers in Allen Miller's lab in the Department of Plant Pathology at Iowa State University have shown that a tiny gene exists in all members of the largest family of plant viruses. Without this gene, the virus is harmless. The discovery was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The work was based on a prediction made in the lab of John Atkins of University College Cork, in Cork, Ireland. Atkins is a world-renowned expert in the field of "recoding" - genetic decoding events that don't follow the normal rules. A researcher in Atkins' lab, Andrew Firth, turned to computers to discover tiny genes hidden in the sequences of viruses.

Firth set his program to work crunching through the genome sequences of the largest and most devastating family of plant viruses - potyviruses. The computer output soon revealed what appeared to be a new gene that overlaps with a much larger and well-known gene in these viruses. At this stage the possible gene was identified simply as a stretch of nucleotide bases in the viral RNA uninterrupted by a "stop" signal and hence known as an open reading frame or ORF. Firth said he thought this was a "pretty interesting potyvirus ORF" so he called it by the acronym pipo and the name stuck.

This is where Iowa State entered the picture. Firth and molecular biology graduate student Betty Chung, also of Atkins' lab, temporarily joined the lab of Allen Miller, who is an expert on plant virus recoding, to obtain the necessary materials and expertise needed to investigate plant viruses. This Irish-Iowa State team used a potyvirus called Turnip mosaic virus (TuMV) that had been engineered to express a protein that turns infected plant parts fluorescent green. It was brought to Iowa State previously by Steve Whitham, associate professor of plant pathology.

TuMV infects not just turnips, but many important vegetable crops. The researchers altered the sequence of the virus genome so the protein synthesis machinery of the plant cell could not make any protein from the predicted pipo minigene, while all the well-known large genes it overlaps with still could be translated normally.

These small mutations "killed" the virus. The normal virus infected plants, causing them to become stunted and glow green under UV light before ultimately dying. The plants inoculated with the mutant virus were healthy and did not glow green because the virus was unable to multiply without the pipo gene.

These results indicated this team of scientists discovered a key gene essential to this diverse family of plant pathogens.

The mysteries now confronting Miller and Atkins' team are to figure out how the pipo protein is expressed from the viral genome, and what it actually does during virus infection. To answer these questions, Miller and Atkins recently were awarded a nearly $400,000 competitive grant from the USDA National Research Initiative.

The team will use these funds to explore what kind of "recoding" event allows translation of the pipo gene, and to determine the process in the virus life cycle in which it is involved.

This research is important to agriculture because 30 percent of all plant viruses are in the potyvirus family. These include the potato virus Y, a new strain of which has tormented potato growers in Europe and North America in recent years, Wheat streak mosaic virus which threatens wheat production in Nebraska and elsewhere, and soybean mosaic virus in Iowa which discolors the beans, reducing their market value. Major fruits such as plum and other stone fruits and vegetables such as lettuce and pepper also often are devastated by potyviruses.

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Genetic Pesticide for Termites Developed in Florida

- Environmental News Service, May 28, 2008

http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/may2008/2008-05-28-093.asp

GAINESVILLE, Florida - A pesticide that attacks termites through their genes has been developed in a lab at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Termites are wood-destroying insects most commonly found in the South but increasingly found in every region in the nation.

Pest control industry estimates peg the damage termites cause at more than $5 billion each year, despite the many insect control techniques aimed at them. And homeowner's insurance will not cover these claims.

Pesticide experts believe that insect control methods designed to affect the genes of target pests are the future of insecticides because of their effectiveness and the fact that they do not affect other creatures.

"The trend in insect control is to find methods that eliminate the problematic insect without affecting anything else in the environment," said Michael Scharf, the entomologist with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences who is developing the genetic pesticide.

"What could possibly be more specific than genes that are unique to the insect itself?" he said.

In a paper published online this week in the journal "Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology," Scharf describes the effects of a mixture that, when consumed by termites, causes them to be cripplingly deformed after molting.

The active agent in this "genetic pesticide" is ribonucleic acid, or RNA. These strands of genetic material carry the instructions encoded in deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, an acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms.

Scharf and his team analyzed part of the termite genome and picked a gene that would disrupt the insect's life cycle and is found only in that type of termite.

They then crafted an RNA structure that would interfere with that specific gene's RNA, thus silencing the gene's activity.

Termites have their skeletons on the outside of their bodies. In order to grow larger they must periodically shed this exoskeleton in a process called molting.

The research termites showed severe deformations after molting as a result of ingesting the gene-silencing pesticide designed by Scharf and his team.

RNA interference techniques are not new - they are commonly used at genetic research institutions across the nation to discover what an organism's gene does by silencing it and observing what occurs

Despite termites' susceptibility to RNA interference, any marketable genetic pesticide is still many years away from development, Scharf said.

Still, when genetic pesticides are ready for market, they may solve the problem of resistance that insects develop to chemical pesticides designed to eliminate them from fields and crops.

Adaptation to genetic pesticides would be more difficult for farm pests than adaptation to chemical pesticides, scientists theorize.

Controlling termites, including the highly destructive Formosan termite now spreading through Florida and the Southeast, is becoming more problematic. Lumber pressure-treated with chromated copper arsenate was widely used, but it is being phased out because arsenic is a known carcinogen.

While chemical barrier treatments under and around the foundation are effective, they deteriorate over time and must be reapplied about every five years.

The pesticide chlordane, which was used to control termites, was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1985 because of risks to the environment and to the human nervous system. Now that chlordane is illegal, interest in termite ecology has increased because of the need for a safe alternative to the chemical.

In addition, at the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute scientists are sequencing the termite genome to reveal biological processes that could be keys to converting woody cellulosic materials into alternative fuels.

They hope to synthesize the novel enzymes discovered through this project to accelerate the delivery of the next generation of cellulosic biofuels.

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Activated Expression of an Arabidopsis HD-START Protein Confers Drought Tolerance with Improved Root System and Reduced Stomatal Density

- Hong Yua, Xi Chena, et. al., The Plant Cell, April 30, 2008

http://www.plantcell.org/cgi/content/abstract/20/4/1134

Drought is one of the most important environmental constraints limiting plant growth and agricultural productivity. To understand the underlying mechanism of drought tolerance and to identify genes for improving this important trait, we conducted a gain-of-function genetic screen for improved drought tolerance in Arabidopsis thaliana. One mutant with improved drought tolerance was isolated and designated as enhanced drought tolerance1. The mutant has a more extensive root system than the wild type, with deeper roots and more lateral roots, and shows a reduced leaf stomatal density. The mutant had higher levels of abscisic acid and Pro than the wild type and demonstrated an increased resistance to oxidative stress and high levels of superoxide dismutase. Molecular genetic analysis and recapitulation experiments showed that the enhanced drought tolerance is caused by the activated expression of a T-DNA tagged gene that encodes a putative homeodomain-START transcription factor. Moreover, overexpressing the cDNA of the transcription factor in transgenic tobacco also conferred drought tolerance associated with improved root architecture and reduced leaf stomatal density. Therefore, we have revealed functions of the homeodomain-START factor that were gained upon altering its expression pattern by activation tagging and provide a key regulator that may be used to improve drought tolerance in plants.

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De Novo Origination of a New Protein-Coding Gene in Saccharomyces cerevisiae

- Jing Cai, Ruoping Zhao, et. al., Genetics (Vol. 179, 487-496), May 2008

http://www.genetics.org/cgi/content/abstract/179/1/487

Origination of new genes is an important mechanism generating genetic novelties during the evolution of an organism. Processes of creating new genes using preexisting genes as the raw materials are well characterized, such as exon shuffling, gene duplication, retroposition, gene fusion, and fission. However, the process of how a new gene is de novo created from noncoding sequence is largely unknown. On the basis of genome comparison among yeast species, we have identified a new de novo protein-coding gene, BSC4 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The BSC4 gene has an open reading frame (ORF) encoding a 132-amino-acid-long peptide, while there is no homologous ORF in all the sequenced genomes of other fungal species, including its closely related species such as S. paradoxus and S. mikatae. The functional protein-coding feature of the BSC4 gene in S. cerevisiae is supported by population genetics, expression, proteomics, and synthetic lethal data. The evidence suggests that BSC4 may be involved in the DNA repair pathway during the stationary phase of S. cerevisiae and contribute to the robustness of S. cerevisiae, when shifted to a nutrient-poor environment. Because the corresponding noncoding sequences in S. paradoxus, S. mikatae, and S. bayanus also transcribe, we propose that a new de novo protein-coding gene may have evolved from a previously expressed noncoding sequence.

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The truth about food

- Robert Paarlberg, Prospect Magazine, May 29, 2008

http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?search_term=The+truth+about+food&id=10183

As everyone knows, the price of many basic foodstuffs has surged in the past half year. Rice tripled in price over just the first four months of 2008, wheat doubled and corn rose 46 per cent. The New York Times has dubbed this a "world food crisis" and the Economist called it a "silent tsunami." High grain import prices, on top of high fuel prices, place an acute economic squeeze on urban consumers in developing countries that depend heavily on the world market. In Haiti, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia, the urban poor have been taking to the streets.

Yet it is a mistake to see high prices as a proxy for actual hunger. Most of the world's hungry citizens do not get their food from the world market, and most who rely on the world market are not poor or vulnerable to hunger.

In south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, hunger levels are twice as high as in the developing countries of east Asia and four times as high as in Latin America. Yet these two hungry regions import very little food from the world market. The countries of sub-Saharan Africa take only 16 per cent of their total grain consumption from the world market, and less than 10 per cent of total calorie consumption. The developing countries of south Asia satisfy only 4 per cent of their grain consumption through imports. So fluctuations in international prices will have little impact within these hungry regions-far less than fluctuations in rainfall, job loss, government subsidies or civil conflict.

Countries deep in poverty rely very little on food imports in part because they lack foreign exchange or simple purchasing power, but also because they consider the world market to be unstable and unreliable-and the current price spike illustrates why.

In poor countries, roughly 850m people are chronically malnourished all the time, even when world market prices are low. Most of the hungry are rural dwellers, far from grain import terminals. The rural poor can fall victim to hunger because of any number of local circumstances, including low productivity in farming, illiteracy, poor health or low status linked to caste, ethnicity, and gender-or all of the above. In sub-Saharan Africa in 2005, a year when food was cheap on the international market, 23 out of 37 countries were consuming less than their nutritional requirements, and one third of all citizens were malnourished.

There are notable exceptions to this disconnect between world hunger and world markets. Countries like Eritrea, Liberia, Haiti, Burundi and Zimbabwe both depend on grain imports for more than 40 per cent of consumption and have average diets of less than 2,200 calories per day, so in these countries higher world prices will cause more actual hunger. But in most of the developing countries that are heavily dependent on imports, diets are not so poor. In north Africa, while roughly half of all essential food items are imported, the average diet is well above 3,000 calories a day, so high import prices will bring an income squeeze and perhaps even riots, but little real hunger. A number of Latin American countries are also heavily dependent on food imports, yet average income per capita in Latin America is now five times as high as in sub-Saharan Africa, so a temporary increase in food prices will squeeze consumption of many daily goods but little added hunger.

The causes of the recent price spike have also been misunderstood. We hear that China's growing appetite for food must be driving up world prices, and there is an element of truth here in soybean markets, but with wheat, corn and rice, China grows what it needs at home and is a net exporter. We hear a lot about how corn use for ethanol has driven up prices, and this is true for corn markets, yet the highest price spike has been for rice, a crop not heavily influenced by biofuels pressures. Global rice prices are up in part because so many Asian rice-producing countries-India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and China-have responded to inflation fears at home by restricting rice exports. When multiple exporters do this at the same time, an artificial shortage is created and international prices spike upwards. Global rice production this year actually grew more rapidly than total consumption.

In today's commodity markets, changing behaviour by private investors can temporarily influence prices more than changes in production or consumption. All commodity prices are up-for petroleum and minerals as well as farm products-in part because of a big shift of capital out of equity markets and real estate (as those bubbles have burst) into commodities, which are favoured as a hedge against inflation at a time of rate-cutting. Pension funds and large institutions have poured roughly $200bn into commodity-linked index funds since 2001, helping to drive prices temporarily higher. This bubble, too, could soon burst.

For all these reasons, price fluctuations in the world market are not a particularly reliable indicator of actual trends in hunger, and success in bringing down world prices will not suffice as an adequate remedy. The long-term solution has to include much larger investments in poverty reduction, focused especially on the rural poor in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. International responses to the current crisis have focused on urban dwellers because they make more political noise and are within easy reach of the news cameras, but the real world food crisis is mostly found in the countryside.

More than 60 per cent of all Africans live and work in impoverished rural communities-starving for lack of any modern investments. The average African smallholder farmer is a woman who works constantly yet earns only about $1 a day. This is because she does not plant any modern seed varieties, applies no nitrogen fertiliser to replace soil nutrients, and has no irrigation (only 4 per cent of farmland in Africa is irrigated). African farmers use hand tools because they have no access to modern machinery or electrical power. Their animals are diseased and weak because they have no access to veterinary medicine. Rural women in Africa also have to provide their own transport. They carry in firewood and water on foot, and carry out the products they try to sell the same way. This style of farming is sometimes romanticised by northern NGOs because it is free from any dependence on agribusiness, has a small carbon footprint, and is de facto "organic." Yet it fails to meet Africa's food needs. On a per capita basis, farming in Africa today is actually producing 19 per cent less than it did in 1970. Taking into account the added burdens anticipated from climate change, the number of undernourished people in Africa could triple by 2080-with or without high world market prices.

Governments in Africa, notoriously urban-biased, have made little effort to improve the circumstances of their own rural poor. They typically devote less than 5 per cent of their national budget to the agricultural sector. Yet part of the blame also lies with rich donor countries, who have been encouraging this neglect of agriculture. For example, the US agency for international development now devotes only 1 per cent of its bilateral development assistance budget to agriculture, and in the past two decades it has cut its assistance to agricultural science in Africa by 75 per cent. The World Bank devoted 30 per cent of its lending to agriculture in 1978, but that share has now fallen to just 8 per cent.

One reason the rich countries moved out of supporting agricultural development after the 1970s was an illusion-caused by falling international market prices in the 1980s and 1990s-that the world's food problems had been solved. But using price trends as a policy guide was just as unreliable a practice then as it is today.

Fortunately, some in the donor community are now reviving long-term investments in rural infrastructure and local farm productivity, particularly in Africa. The new World Bank president, Robert B Zoellick, recently announced a plan to raise agricultural lending to Africa next year from $450m to $800m, and in the past two years the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has begun to focus more of its grant-making on the needs of poor farmers in Africa.

One particularly useful poverty-reducing investment to help farmers in Africa would be crops better able to tolerate drought. Private companies in the US, such as Pioneer-Dupont and Monsanto, have recently used genetic engineering to introduce drought tolerance traits into yellow maize, a product likely to be placed on the western market several years from now. But it is farmers in Africa growing tropical varieties of white maize that need this new drought-tolerance trait the most, and until now governments in Africa have felt under pressure not to approve any GM crops for fear of losing access to export markets in Europe. Well-fed Europeans don't need the added productivity these technologies provide and so GM crops have been shunned by consumers. Perhaps the current interlude of higher commodity prices will remind us all that farmers in the developing world cannot yet take productivity and abundance for granted.

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Ideological Nature of Food Security Debate a Disservice to Africa

- Chido Makunike, African Executive, May 28, 2008

http://www.africanexecutive.com/modules/magazine/articles.php?article=3169&magazine=178

The renewed interest in finding ways of making Africa self-sufficient in food is welcome. It is a shame for Africa to be chronically dependent on food handouts. Devoting too much time and energy in the struggle for food and mere sustenance hinders Africa from tackling its many other challenges.

Some of the world's best minds are figuring how best to move Africa out of chronic food insecurity. The debate is becoming increasingly shrill and ideological in nature. This carries the risk of the discussion going hopelessly astray, at the high cost of Africa continuing to wallow in food insecurity and dependency. The sharpest ideological demarcation is between those who favour a high-input, biotechnology-based "green revolution" approach, versus those who advocate various forms of low-inputs "sustainable farming" options.

One side argues that some version of intensive agriculture is how the rest of the world has become self-sufficient in food. They maintain that Africa must adopt some variation of it if it is to overcome chronic hunger. The other side concentrates on the downsides of the green revolution as practised in Asia and Latin America.

They point to how higher crop yields were also accompanied by greater environmental pollution from agro-chemicals, and farmer dependence on expensive inputs such as hybrid or genetically modified seeds and agrochemicals. They bolster their arguments by showing how, particularly in India; many farmers have resorted to suicide when poor harvests and high input costs trapped them in debt. A particularly emotive issue for them is that of the patenting of seeds by corporations employing gene modification (GM) technology. They are particularly alarmed by the technically feasibility of GM companies protecting their patents by the insertion of genes that render seeds sterile, so that a farmer must purchase fresh seeds for each sowing.

The "sustainable farming" championed by many NGOs, farmers' groups and others who are opposed to the green revolution paradigm involves aspects such as reliance on open-pollinated variety (OPV) seeds instead of hybrid seeds. OPVs can be saved and planted by the farmer from one harvest to the next, effectively giving him his own seed bank.

Green revolution advocates scoff at this age-old practice, citing this as one important reason African crop yields are so low. They believe improved (hybrid) seeds should be more widely used because of their higher yield potential, for which they have been specially bred and tested. They argue that the extra cost to the farmer of having to purchase them fresh every season (output drops with each planting if they are saved) are far outweighed by the farmer's higher yields and income.

Sustainable agriculture proponents counter-argue that not only are the higher yields and incomes to compensate for the "extra" cost of purchasing seed annually not assured, but that achieving them requires special conditions which are beyond the control of the average African farmer, and which do not obtain widely enough in Africa. They believe it is more appropriate to continue to encourage the use of traditional seed varieties that are well-adapted to local climatic, agronomic and other conditions than hybrids. They would instead concentrate efforts on improving yields by capacitating the farmer to improve his soil fertility by various "natural" means, rather than by increased use of fertiliser, and on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) rather than by encouraging greater use of pesticides.

So great is the hostility between the two camps that the "sustainable" side accuses the "green revolution" side of being motivated more by the search for new markets and higher profits on behalf of international seed and agrochemical companies, than by concern for African food security. Green revolution advocates in turn dismiss their critics as romanticising low-yield traditional agriculture, backed in that endeavour by modernity-spurning Western NGOs.

Africa is the ultimate loser in the course that this debate has taken. The debate must return to the control of Africans. But more importantly, it needs to be conducted dispassionately; with as much of the ideology on both sides kept to a bare minimum, in favour of strictly what will work best for Africa to increase agricultural productivity.

Doing that will show that it is simplistic and dangerous for the debate to be along such simplistic fault lines as green evolution/biotechnology/high external inputs agriculture versus low inputs/sustainable agriculture. The complicated nature of Africa's agricultural challenges mean they are not amenable to such either/or approaches. Improving the continent's agricultural productivity will depend on the adoption of a range of interventions, the mix depending on the unique local conditions obtaining. The sooner Africa can get to debate the issues from this more informed, more inclusive perspective, the better for African agriculture.

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How Greenpeace is Hurting the Environment and Endangering Humanity

- Alan Tracy and Ron Suppes, smallgrains.org (U.S. Wheat Associates), May 27, 2008

http://www.smallgrains.org/article.aspx?id=7139

Greenpeace, along with a number of more extreme environmental groups, has made a cause out of opposing biotechnology and any products derived from it. Field trials have been stomped, grocery stores picketed and governments flooded with impassioned mail. While genetically modified crops have nonetheless been a big success in the U.S., these groups and the public fear of "Frankenfoods" they have fostered have so far generally shut down acceptance of such crops and foods in Europe, Japan, Africa and much of the rest of the world.

The food safety argument against such foods has no scientific basis. Modern biotechnology allows the insertion of very precise slices of DNA to bring beneficial traits into crops and animals. These finely honed techniques allow for insect resistant crops, rice with its own vitamin A, drought tolerance and myriad other useful traits. As long as they are properly tested and licensed the resulting products are just as safe and nutritious as the traditionally bred foods they replace. The approval process is rigorous, and despite all of the fuss most U.S. cropland is now occupied by genetically modified crops and none of the fearful specters raised has proved true.

Likewise, concerns about environmental impacts have proven unfounded. In fact, it turns out in practice that genetically modified crops bring very real environmental benefits. The genetically modified crops now planted broadly across the U.S. require less herbicide and insecticide and consume less of the oil and energy it takes to make such pesticides. (Doesn't it just make sense to build an insecticide into a plant rather than broadcast one onto the whole field?) Engineered herbicide tolerance brings better weed control, which leads to less tillage, which uses less fuel and preserves both the soil and its capacity to store away carbon. Higher yields mean that less new cropland has to be found to meet the needs of a growing world population. That means less forest and jungle and savannah get destroyed along with their air purifying and carbon storing capacity. Biotechnologically derived saline tolerance is now on the near horizon, meaning that we will be able to reclaim croplands that have been abandoned. Modern biotechnology is proving to be one of the most important environmental advances that agricultural science has ever discovered.

And perhaps just in time. The world's human population is expected to grow 50 percent by 2050, and the emerging economies of China, India and more are growing a middle class that demands more and better food and has the means to pay for it. Food prices are rising and will continue to do so unless we can boost agricultural productivity enough to meet the demand. In the meantime, the world's poor suffer the most when food prices rise. There have been food related riots in dozens of countries around the world as food prices have spiked over the last year. Should we be successful in improving governments and economies in the world's impoverished places, we will need even more food to meet the subsequent demand. Without greater agricultural productivity, an even greater share of the world's poorest people will suffer all the more.

Biotechnology is the best and most practical tool available to give the world the boost in agricultural productivity we must have to reduce starvation and environmental degradation. Continued mindless opposition to this applied science will only bring greater misery, poverty and environmental destruction to the world. Greenpeace has a proud history of responsible environmental activism which they are jeopardizing by getting the biotechnology issue exactly wrong. They should be working with the agricultural research community to help safeguard biotechnology and shape its products, not fighting it tooth and nail.

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Ecochondria Retards Progress in Reducing Hunger

- Indur Goklany, Cato@Liberty, May 20, 2008

http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2008/05/20/ecochondria-retards-progress-in-reducing-hunger/

Keith Bradsher and Andrew Martin outline in Sunday's New York Times the extent to which the world's aid agencies starved the budgets of international agricultural research institutions that worked on increasing agricultural productivity in the developing world:

Donors increasingly directed the money toward worthwhile but ancillary projects like environmental research. Spending fell on the laborious plant-breeding programs needed to improve crop productivity.... As these trends played out, the stage was being set for a food emergency... From 1970 to 1990, the peak Green Revolution years, the food supply grew faster than the world population. But after 1990, food's growth rate fell below population growth, according to a report by Ronald Trostle, a researcher at the Agriculture Department...

Adjusting for inflation and exchange rates, the wealthy countries, as a group, cut ... donations [to agriculture in poor countries from the governments of wealthy countries] roughly in half from 1980 to 2006, to $2.8 billion a year from $6 billion. The United States cut its support for agriculture in poor countries to $624 million from $2.3 billion in that period... The World Bank cut its agricultural lending to $2 billion in 2004 from $7.7 billion in 1980.

John Tierney ties all this together in Greens and Hunger reminding us how environmental groups succeeded in demonizing (my word) the green revolution and prevailed upon Western "aid" agencies, multilateral agencies (such as the World Bank) and philanthropies, specifically the Rockefeller and the Ford Foundations, to reduce funding to improve crop productivity in Africa.

Looking at other explanations for today's high food prices, the Washington Post's Colum Lynch - a perfect name for a muckraking journalist - notes in a report titled, World Aid Agencies Faulted in Food Crisis: Failure to Support Agriculture Cited:

European governments, meanwhile, have clung to an import ban on high-yielding, genetically modified crops - thus dissuading African nations from using a technology that could increase production. "The two biggest follies are biofuels in America and the ban on genetically modified crops in Europe," said Paul Collier, a professor of economics at Oxford University.

Notably, all three explanations have a common denominator, namely, "well fed Westerners," to use Tierney's phrase, putting the environment ahead of humans in developing countries.

Without their ecochondria, the green revolution would be seen for what it is - a major advance in human well being, the lobby for subsidizing ethanol would be much less powerful, and misanthropic bans on genetically modified crops would not be respectable in a world that claims to cherish both human lives and minimization of human suffering.

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Genetic Engineering and the World Trade System: World Trade Forum

- Daniel WŁger and Thomas Cottier, eds., Amazon.com/Cambridge University Press, June 30, 2008 (pre-order status)

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0521883601/ref=pe_5050_9018630_pe_snp_601

Product Description

While the WTO agreements do not regulate the use of biotechnology per se, their rules can have a profound impact on the use of the technology for both commercial and non-commercial purposes. This book seeks to identify the challenges to international trade regulation that arise from biotechnology. The contributions examine whether existing international obligations of WTO Members are appropriate to deal with the issues arising for the use of biotechnology and whether there is a need for new international legal instruments, including a potential WTO Agreement on Biotechnology. They combine various perspectives on and topics relating to genetic engineering and trade, including human rights and gender; intellectual property rights; traditional knowledge and access and benefit sharing; food security, trade and agricultural production and food safety; and medical research, cloning and international trade.

About the Author

Daniel WŁger is a lecturer at the University of Bern, a senior research fellow at the Swiss Federal Office of Justice and a consultant to the NCCR International Trade Regulation project at the World Trade Institute, Bern. Thomas Cottier is Professor of European and International Economics Law at the University of Bern and Director of the Institute of European and International Economic Law. He is also Managing Director of the World Trade Institute.

Search inside this book:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0521883601/ref=sib_dp_pt#reader-link

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ASPB engages Latin America colleagues at Annual Meeting

- American Society of Plant Biologists (press release) via Genetic Engineering News, May 28, 2008

http://www.genengnews.com/news/bnitem.aspx?name=36434545

ASPB engages Latin America colleagues at Annual Meeting in Merida, Mexico June 22-25

The Joint Annual Meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) and the Sociedad Mexicana De Bioquimica Rama: Bioquimica y Biologia Molecular de Plantas will be held June 22 - 25, 2008 in the Fiesta Americana Hotel in Merida, Mexico.

A major theme of this year's annual meeting is the biology and agriculture of plant species that originated in the America's. Presentations will also focus on the international collaborations to study and improve these crops for example, maize, tomato, potato, and tropical species.

To view the preliminary agenda or to register for the annual meeting, please visit: http://www.aspb.org/meetings/pb-2008/

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