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July 3, 2008


Farmers lust after GM eggplant; Drought-resistant groundnut; Virus-resistant abaca sought


* Why Indian farmers lust after GM eggplant
* India developing drought-resistant groundnut
* Biotech regulator on anvil
* Malawi okays GM products, field trials
* Tiny gene in a major family of plant viruses
* Work on virus-resistant abaca
* Prices delay startup of ethanol plant
* US Adoption of GE Crops: 1996 - 2008
* Activists Destroy Three GM Fields in France
* Fungus and Food
* Book review: Doomed If We Do, or Doomed If We Don't?
* The food industry after Lisbon
* Video: Expense Allowance Abuse by MEPs


Why Indian farmers lust after genetically modified eggplant

- Andrew Leonard, Salon, July 1, 2008


In May, India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved a request by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Co. (Mahyco) to begin "experimental seed production" of genetically modified Bt eggplant. (Thanks to GMO Pundit for the link.)

After China, India is the world's largest producer of eggplant, or brinjal, as it is known on the subcontinent. Primarily cultivated by small farmers, it is plagued by a devastating pest, the fruit and shoot borer. But Bt brinjal incorporates a variation of the cry1Ac gene, which works as potent built-in pesticide against the borer.

At the same meeting at which GEAC approved the production of Bt brinjal seeds, the committee heard testimony from Dr. P.M. Bhargava, who ran through a checklist of reasons why recklessly expanding the number and type of genetically modified crops planted in India might be imprudent. The committee dismissed his concerns, and we could have a nice long argument over whether it was wise to do so. Personally, How the World Works agrees with Dr. Bhargava on at least one issue -- there are fundamentally disturbing issues relating to clear conflicts of interest when governments depend on data provided by a private company for safety assurances and risk assessments.

But never mind that. A survey of Indian farmers published in the Journal of Risk Research in 2005 elicited some illuminating opinions on health risks and other issues associated with genetically modified eggplant. For these farmers, the primary, overriding issue is economic. They are already going broke applying conventional pesticides to which the fruit and shoot borer has developed resistance. If they can save money and boost yields by adopting GM eggplant, they will do so.

A comment from a farmer in Ahmednagar:

"Presently, I am cultivating five acres of eggplant and spending 50,000 to 60,000 rupees on pesticides for these five acres and getting three to four lakhs' income from this acreage. If I grow Bt eggplant and get two to three lakhs' income from just two to three acres, I will enjoy greater benefits. Bt eggplant will also reduce pesticide costs from 50,000 rupees to 10,000 to 12,000...With Bt eggplant, I can reduce my eggplant acreage from five to one-and-a-half acres and devote the remaining land to planting other crops."

These farmers aren't just blindly accepting biotech propaganda (Mahyco is a partner with Monsanto in introducing GM technology into India.) They are quite mindful of what other farmers have witnessed with respect to Bt cotton, a topic explored in some depth last year in How the World Works in "Ganesh and Brahma Bow to a New God" and "The Napster Pirates of Transgenic Biotech." At the grass roots level, Indian cotton farmers have legally and illegally planted Bt cotton varieties because they have seen with their own eyes how yields rise and pesticide costs go down in the short term.

A comment from a farmer in Aurangabad:

"I have seen the results of Bt cotton and the reduction in pesticide application in a neighboring farm. If the same technology is transferred from Bt cotton to Bt eggplant, and if the damage inflicted by the fruit and shoot borer can be reduced by at least 50 percent without the use of pesticides, I can save money and profit from the use of Bt eggplant."

The most disturbing, and yet at the same time enlightening comment of all comes from another Ahmednagar farmer, who notes an unfortunate result of the current practice of intense pesticide application.

"We have to spray pesticides on eggplants every two to three days. Because of this practice, we do not eat the eggplants that we grow. We know that there is a lot of pesticide residue on the eggplants because we are spraying every two to three days! So, we are not eating that stuff. The eggplant is totally made of those chemicals. But we put them directly in the market and sell them anyway. If Bt eggplant is invented, we will be able to eat the eggplants we grow because there will be less chemical residue on the vegetable. I think Bt eggplant is necessary because when we spray every two to three days, what happens is that new diseases are occurring in the human body. People are buying vegetables from the market and eating them. But they do not know what the farmer is spraying on his vegetables."

I have no idea how representative that last farmer's attitudes are of Indian eggplant farmers in general. But the basic calculus seems pretty clear. If Indian farmers can simultaneously cut their costs by cutting their pesticide expenses and boost yields by fending off the fruit and shoot borer, they will pay a premium price for genetically modified eggplant seeds. In a world where all kinds of agricultural inputs are drastically rising in price, that same calculus will likely play out elsewhere, with other farmers and other crops.


Indian scientists developing drought-resistant groundnut

- Rajeev Ranjan Roy, India PRwire/Indo Asian News Service, July 3, 2008


Indian farmers will soon get access to a new variety of groundnut that is drought-resistant and can be cultivated even in areas where water is scarce.

'Genetic mapping has discovered certain genes in groundnut that are drought- resistant. The testing of seeds of this variety is at an advanced stage,' Rajeev K. Varshney, a senior scientist at Hyderabad's International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), said.

'The new seed can grow even in drought-prone areas and will produce higher yields. In Asia and Africa, where water shortage is a major issue, the new seed will be a boon for farmers,' Varshney, whose specialisation is applied genomics, told IANS.

A majority of Indian farmers are dependent on the monsoon for their requirement of water. However, rainfall is not uniform in the country.

In 2006, for instance, of the 533 meteorological districts, 112 received excess rain, while the situation was normal in 193 districts.

Rainfall was deficient in 195 districts, while 17 districts received only scanty rain.

Varshney, who was in the national capital to attend a seminar of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), said ICRISAT was also developing improved seeds for chic-pea, pigeon-pea, pearl millet, and sorghum.

'There is need to develop improved seeds for several crops by making them drought- resistant. India has vast stretches of land that are semi-arid or drought-prone. The new seeds will help a lot in these areas,' he said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has sponsored the research on the new groundnut variety. Scientists from Brazil's Catholic University, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, and the University of Georgia are also engaged in the project.

According to ICRISAT, groundnut is the 13th most important food crop of the world, the fourth most important source of edible oil and the third most important source of vegetable protein.

It is grown on 26.4 million hectares worldwide in nearly 100 countries with the main producers being China, India, Nigeria, the US, Indonesia and Sudan.

An official estimate says that India produced 4.09 million tonnes of groundnut in 2006-07 against 5.94 million tonnes in 2005-06.

According to ICRISAT, groundnut in India is grown on 5.7 million hectares of land with an average productivity of 0.8 tonnes per hectare.

Enhanced productivity would translate into greater foreign exchange for India, which exports groundnuts to over 60 countries worldwide, with Malaysia being one of the key importers.

Data with the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) shows that India exported 251,428 tonnes of groundnut in 2006-07 against 177,154 tonnes in 2004-05.

'Groundnut has a huge world market. If we enhance productivity, our exchequer will earn more foreign exchange. For this, we need to increase the area under groundnut cultivation. This will be made possible through seeds that are drought-resistant,' Varshney pointed out.


Biotech regulator on anvil

- The Statesman (India), June 30, 2008


NEW DELHI: The department of biotechnology (DBT) has initiated the consultative process with all the stakeholders for discussing the establishment plan and draft Bill for setting up the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA). The NBRA would be set up as an independent, autonomous and professionally led body to provide a single window mechanism for bio-safety clearance of genetically modified products and processes. As part of the above process, a consultation with senior media representatives was held under the chairmanship of Prof. M.S. Swaminathan here.

Setting up of NBRA will require the promulgation of new legislation, the "National Biotechnology Regulatory Act" or the NBR Act. The draft establishment plan and draft legislation have been prepared by a consultative committee of experts. Representatives from leading news organisations participated in the consultation. Several aspects of the proposed bill including data exclusivity, sharing of data/information on the field trials and safety testing with public, ensuring full autonomy to the proposed regulatory authority, the role of appellate tribunal vis-à-vis its relation with other civil courts, inter-ministerial cooperation to address overlapping issues with existing laws particularly in case of foods and pharma were discussed.

Several representatives stressed the need for a professional communication and outreach system and suggested that the same should be in built as part of the new organisation to enable smooth flow of information to various stakeholders. Dr MK Bhan, secretary, DBT clarified that the department is only a facilitator in establishment of this authority and would have no role in its functioning and operations once it is established.


Malawi govt. okays research into genetically modified crops

- Afrique-Actualité (Africa), June 30, 2008


Blantyre, Malawi - Malawi has finally opened its doors to genetically mod ified crops (GMOs) despite fears still lingering among consumer rights groups.

"Yes, cabinet has approved the National Bio-technology and Bio-safety bill," said Alec Manda, the acting Director of the National Research Council of Malawi.

Manda said with the policy now in place Malawi can now start using products that are genetically modified.

He said what remains now was for scientists to start field trial in testing genetically modified crops developed outside the country.

"What that means is that we have completed the regulatory process which started with the Bio-safety Act, the enactment of the Bio-Safety Act in the year 2002; the formulation of regulations in the year 2007; and just today cabinet has approved the National Bio-technology Policy," he said.

But the Consumers Association of Malawi (CAMA) has since warned government to tread carefully when introducing the GMOs into the market.

CAMA's acting Executive Director Andrew Ussi said the consumer rights watchdog would closely monitor events as the country prepares to introduce genetically modified crops.

"Our current position is that before any food is being introduced on the market the consumer has to be informed as to the benefits of that GMO food to his body, to the environment and, for posterity's sake, as well as the other plants that will be grown surrounding that crop," he said.

Ussi said the consumer rights group would ensure that there was proper trial bef ore the GMOs are introduced.

"our mission is to promote and protect consumer rights in Malawi," he said, adding that such rights included the right to information.

"The consumer has to be informed on each and every product that comes onto the market in terms of the manufacturer, ingridients and every everything," Ussi added.

But Manda of the National research council of Malawi, said there was no cause for worry, adding that a special Bio-technology and Bio-safety Committee, comprising scientists and other experts, had been set up to oversee the trial.

"We have to test these GMOs or GMO crops which have been developed outside the country; to test them under Malawian conditions; how do they perform," he said. " We are not going to start by developing our own GMOs."

Manda said the research and evaluation could take as long as three years.

"We have to see how they peform under Malawian conditions; It is only after the researchers have established that those perform well then there will be another process now to see if they can be commercialised," he said.

The issue of genetically modified foods became a sensitive issue between the years 2002 and 2003 when Malawi was hit with a severe food crisis which forced the government of former President Bakili Muluzi to accept genetically modified food from the West, especially the US.


Tiny gene discovered hiding in a major family of plant viruses

- High Plains Journal, July 3, 2008


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.


UPLB rushes work on breeding virus-resistant abaca.

- GMA TV (Philippines), June 29, 2008


MANILA, Philippines - Experts from the University of the Philippines-Los Banos (UPLB) are now working double time to develop a strain of abaca that is resistant to the bunchy-top virus, the nemesis of 1.5 million Filipinos who cultivate it.

Dr. Anton Lalusin heads the team that is rushing the propagation of the new strain of abaca that has good fiber qualities and is resistant to the virus, which stunts the growth of the plant and destroys the fiber.

The Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) spearheads the work on the new strain of abaca, known scientifically as Musa textilis, which generates annual export sales of $76 million.

Actually, Lalusin said, the team succeeded in producing a bunchy-top virus resistant plant but its fiber quality was not at par with that derived from the pure bred plants.

They have cultivated abaca anew and harvest of the new plants may come next month. They hope the new batch would not only be resistant to the bunchy-top virus but would also have good fiber.

Work on abaca has been encouraged by the Department of Agriculture (DA), which sees great potential in abaca, which enjoys good demand from car manufacturers, currency makers, rope and twine producers and factories that have resorted to using natural ingredients.

Abaca fiber, also known as Manila hemp, is utilized mostly by vehicle manufacturers in Europe as substitute for fiberglass in automobile interiors.

The Philippines enjoys domination of the abaca market, controlling 85 percent of all fiber supplies in the world, with Ecuador a poor second at 15 percent.

Abaca is indigenous to the Philippines, particularly in Mindanao's Caraga Region.

The Biotechnology Information and Organization Network (BIONet) in the Caraga Region is awaiting the results of Lalusin's work, which is crucial to the massive production of abaca by farmers, along with papaya, which is coveted by cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies worldwide.

A BIONet Center will be launched in Butuan City on July 3, in time for the BIONet National Council's two-day third quarter meeting scheduled to start on the same day at the Balanghai Hotel and Convention Center.


Guest ed. note: For more information on abaca (Musa textilis), see "Botany photo of the day: Musa Textilis", University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, May 9, 2008, http://www.ubcbotanicalgarden.org/potd/2008/05/musa_textilis.php and "GRIN Taxonomy for Plants: Taxon: Musa textilis", United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Germplasm Resources Information Network, July 3, 2008, http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?24742 For more information on the virus, see " Abacá bunchy top virus, a new member of the genus Babuvirus (family Nanoviridae)", M. Sharman, et. al., Archives of Virology, Nov. 5, 2007, http://www.springerlink.com/content/5m8264k915064162/ See also, "Genetic Engineering Eyed to Solve Problems of Abaca Industry", Philippine Headline News Online, Apr. 7, 2006, http://www.newsflash.org/2004/02/si/si002157.htm


Startup of Hankinson ethanol plant delayed

- VeraSun Energy (press release) via Farm and Ranch Guide, June 25, 2008


VeraSun Energy Corp., one of the nation's largest ethanol producers, announced on June 25 that it will delay the startup of its 110 million-gallon-per-year ethanol production facility in Hankinson, N.D. The Hankinson facility marks the third VeraSun plant that has delayed startup operations this month due to market conditions, joining plants in Welcome, Minn. and Hartley, Iowa.

"Given the current volatility in the market, we believe that delaying all three of these startups is the prudent decision for the long-term benefit of our company and shareholders," said VeraSun CCEO Don Endres. "Ethanol is currently being sold at a deep discount to unleaded gasoline, which has caused us to delay the startup of these facilities until the outlook for ethanol selling prices and overall margins improve."

Construction on the Hankinson facility will be completed by the end of June, while construction on the Hartley and Welcome biorefineries was completed earlier this month.

"With oil prices hovering around record levels, there is tremendous urgency for domestically produced fuel options in our country," Endres said. "Ethanol is a solution that is available today will continue to have a strategic impact on diversifying our energy needs."


Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S. Overview

- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, July 2, 2008


U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) crops widely since their introduction in 1996, notwithstanding uncertainty about consumer acceptance and economic and environmental impacts. Soybeans and cotton genetically engineered with herbicide-tolerant traits have been the most widely and rapidly adopted GE crops in the U.S., followed by insect-resistant cotton and corn. This product summarizes the extent of adoption of herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant crops since their introduction in 1996. Three tables devoted to corn, cotton, and soybeans cover the 2000-08 period by State.


The following tables provide the data obtained by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in the June Agricultural Survey for 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Randomly selected farmers across the United States were asked if they planted corn, soybeans, or upland cotton seed that, through biotechnology, is resistant to herbicides, insects, or both. Conventionally bred herbicide-tolerant varieties were excluded. Stacked gene varieties include those containing GE traits for both herbicide tolerance (HT) and insect resistance (Bt).

[follow link above for full text and tables]


Activists Destroy Three GM Fields in France

- Sybille de La Hamaide and Laure Bretton, Reuters via PlanetArk, July 2, 2008


PARIS - Three fields of genetically modified (GM) maize were destroyed over the weekend in southwest France, the farm ministry said on Tuesday, calling the acts illegal and irresponsible for France's research sector.

Attacks on GM tests have become common practice in France, Europe's largest grain producer, where the use of biotech crops is widely opposed on fears they could harm humans and wildlife by triggering an uncontrolled spread of modified genes.

The attack, on Sunday night, was the first of the season.

French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier, along with Research Minister Valerie Pecresse, condemned the action.

"For the two ministers, this destruction of experiments aimed at testing new GMOs irresponsibly sap (France's) research capacity," the farm ministry said in a statement.

The experiments were carried out by Swiss agrochemicals company Syngenta and Pioneer, a unit of DuPont Co, near the city of Condom and another test, near Mauroux, was owned by US biotech giant Monsanto, it said.

The attacks came only a few days after the promulgation of a new law governing the growth of GM organisms in France, which promises a jail sentence of up to three years and a fine of 150,000 euros when an experimental GM field is destroyed.

Although France banned in February the sole GM crop grown in the European Union, a maize developed by Monsanto, the cultivation of GM seeds for scientific purposes is still legal, provided companies respect rules aimed at limiting dissemination of pollen to conventional fields.

Activists, including France's most famous GM opponent, Jose Bove, say these rules are not sufficient and argue the test fields being grown were sown before the new law.

The new law creates a body, called High Authority on GMOs, due to evaluate seeds before being authorised in the country.

"The ministry should have asked that these tests be halted while waiting for new evaluations (by the High Authority). It has a part of responsibility," Bove, who went to jail several times for ransacking GM fields, told Reuters.

The biotech industry insists its products are safe.


Fungus and Food

- Robert Wager, Korea Times, June 29, 2008


``Please sir, may I have some more,'' goes the famous line from the Dickens classic ``Oliver Twist.'' It is the very question the world's poor are now asking in the face of unprecedented rises in food prices.

Prices of food staples like rice, wheat, corn and bananas have all sky rocketed. What is causing this rise depends on who you talk to. Some people blame biofuels or the huge price jump in oil.

Others blame financial speculators and international tariffs. And still others blame changes in climate due to manmade green house gases.

It is likely a combination of all of the above. In the face of this crisis the U.N. is also calling for a doubling of world food supplies by 2030. But how?

There seem to be as many proposed answers to the present food crisis as there are causes. One action plan rarely publicized is the use of biotechnology to help reduce fungal destruction of food crops.

Most people are unaware that approximately one third of all food produced becomes rotten before it can be consumed. As science develops genetically modified (GM) crops that resist fungus, we will be able to increase food supplies without converting more of the environment to farmland.


Maize is highly susceptible to the fusarium fungus. Fusarium can produce a mycotoxin called fumonisin B. This compound is carcinogenic and has been linked to birth defects in animals and humans.

Parts of the world often lose 30-40 percent of their corn crop to mycotoxin contamination. In the mid 1990s scientists commercialized the first genetically modified maize.

This GM crop had the insecticidal gene transferred from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt (a safe, natural insecticide used in organic agriculture for over fifty years).

A healthy side effect of the genetically engineered insect resistance is greatly reduced fungal contamination of Bt maize. Just last year an Italian study found Bt maize had over 100 times less fumonisin B when grown side-by-side with nearly identical conventional maize that lacked the Bt gene.

Along with its proven protection against insect damage, huge reductions in fumonisin B contamination represent a significant advance toward healthier food.


Bananas are the fourth largest food crop in the world. In the 1950s the world permanently lost its most popular type of banana to a fungus. Panama disease wiped out the Gros Michel banana.

A different fungus threatens today's Cavendish bananas. Banana producers use a great deal of fungicide to stay one step ahead of Black Sigatoka disease. This fungus is rapidly becoming resistant to all of the fungicides presently used in banana production.

It has been stated that unless we find a solution, Black Sigatoka fungus will destroy all of today's most popular variety of banana. Because bananas are sterile and do not produce seeds, conventional methods of developing fungal resistance have failed completely. But there is hope.

According to the European GMO Compass, ``many banana producers hope to save Cavendish bananas with the help of genetic engineering.''

A few varieties of Brazilian bananas have demonstrated fungal resistance genes. Biotechnologists have placed some of these genes into the Cavendish plants. So far the confined greenhouse trials look promising.

The development of fungal resistant transgenic bananas will greatly reduce the use of fungicide benefiting the consumer, the farm workers and the environment.

If we want to save the Cavendish banana, it is vital that this technology not be further delayed by critics of genetically modified crops.


One hundred and fifty years ago the fungus Phytophthora infestans caused the Irish potato famine. The complete destruction of the Irish potato crop caused the death of one million people through starvation.

Today the same fungus destroys about 20 percent of the world's annual potato crop. Farmers use copper compounds in organic potato production or synthetic fungicides in conventional production.

As with other fungal pests, this fungus is becoming immune to fungicides. An alternative approach involved using genetic engineering to move fungal resistance genes from wild species of potatoes to the most popular commercial potato varieties.

Even though these genetically modified potatoes only have genes from other wild potatoes, critics of GM crops ripped up the research plots in the U.K. last year. Hopefully this year's trials will not suffer the same fate.


Twice in the last century a fungus called stem rust caused massive loss of wheat crops. Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Prize, in part, for his work developing rust resistant wheat varieties that helped the world double its food supply between the 1950s and 70s.

Decades of reduced investment in agricultural research, a prolonged drought in Australia, and the recent incentive to plant other crops for bio-fuels have all contributed to the dramatic reduction in wheat crops.

Last year saw global wheat stocks at their lowest level since 1947. It is little wonder the price of wheat has doubled in the past year.

To further stress wheat markets, a new emerging fungus, Ug99 (discovered in Uganda in 1999) threatens world stocks. It is highly resistant to commercial fungicides and is spread on the wind.

Many researchers fear this strain of fungus has the potential to decimate world wheat stocks causing further increases in food prices.

Fortunately, research into new rust resistant varieties are well underway with genes coming from barley, rice and even corn to deal with this global threat to wheat. Once again most of the resistance genes are transferred from closely related members of the grass family.

Without support, fungal resistant wheat research may suffer the same attacks by critics that have slowed the development of other GM crops.

The world population will continue to rise in the coming decades and we must find ways to feed everyone in a more sustainable manner. We must utilize every tool in the agricultural toolbox.

From organic methods to genetically engineered crops we will need them all. Biotechnology is not a panacea but as Angel Gurria, secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), stated just prior to the 2008 World Food Summit, ``I am saying genetically modified crops are part of the solution."

In 2000 the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization stated: ``Biotechnology would provide powerful tools for the sustainable development of agriculture and food production."

Well researched and regulated genetically modified crops will become a significant part of our food security. It does not make sense to block or destroy research that can potentially save millions from starvation and reduce fungicide use.

It is time for critics of this technology to accept the role GM crops can and will play in global agriculture.

Robert Wager is a faculty member at Vancouver Island University in British Columbia, Canada. He received a master's degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.


Doomed If We Do, or Doomed If We Don't?

- James E. McWilliams, Texas Observer, June 27, 2008


Globalization cuts both ways. On the one hand, it's a capitalistic assault on indigenous knowledge, a conspiracy orchestrated by neoliberal nuts who want to turn nation-states into market states, outsource wage-labor and military tasks, and dump the true costs of business on an already impoverished developing world. On the other hand, it's a Tom Friedman fantasy in which cell phones and fast food bring peace and prosperity to people otherwise shackled by repressive ideologies, religious fanaticism, and bureaucratic regimes. Both portrayals are exaggerated, and both contain dashes of truth.

Perhaps understandably, the vast majority of books published on globalization attempt to negotiate these extremes, with varied results. As the two books under review demonstrate, the polarized nature of the debate tends to demand either a stifling of common sense or a radical reassessment of assumptions.

Thus we have Stan Cox, whose angry but well-documented book ends with a proposal that's more fantasy than reality, facing off against Robert Paarlberg, whose similarly angry and well-documented book ends with an alternative perspective on globalization that will inspire open-minded skeptics to rethink the matter.

[follow the link above for the complete book review]


The food industry after Lisbon

- Lorraine Heller, FoodNavigator.com, June 30, 2008


In the face of another rejection of a European Union treaty, the bloc's food industry has one glaring path ahead: business as normal.

The Lisbon Treaty had been slammed by some in the industry, and applauded by others in the heated run-up to the Irish referendum this month.

The rejection from Irish voters - who were the only ones to be offered a referendum on Lisbon - must now be swallowed with a spoonful of sugar and no useless debate.

Because, in essence, the treaty would not have had any major impact on the industry.

Industry positions

Earlier this month, the Irish Association of Health Stores (IAHS) kicked up strong opposition to the treaty, claiming that like all "draconian Brussels laws" it would benefit conservative players and large firms, while damaging small companies and the more liberated Irish market in general.

On the other end of the spectrum, the trade group Food and Drink Industry Ireland (FDII) backed the treaty, saying it was crucial to have an efficient EU framework for monitoring a fully integrated supply chain in an export-led industry.

However, during the run-up to the Lisbon Treaty and other EU treaties before it (the EU constitution in 2005 and the Nice Treaty in 2001), the European wheels have continued to grind, directives and regulations have continued to roll in, and they continue to do so.

Legislation as normal

One of the main objections cited by IAHS was the setting of maximum levels for nutrients in food supplements, which could have damaged smaller industry players if governed under a more centralized European power.

According to IAHS spokesperson Erica Murray, high-dose products currently on the market (and manufactured mainly by small firms) would be hard hit if levels are capped too high.

But the Lisbon Treaty would not have played any role in the setting of maximum levels in supplements.

The Commission, which has already initiated the process, and which has sought consultation from member states, is expected to issue a proposal towards the end of the year.

With this piece of legislation, as with all food legislation, the actors involved would still be the Commission - as the one in charge of proposing legislation - and the Council (i.e. member states) and Parliament as the ones adopting it, explained Lorène Courrège, director of regulatory affairs at the European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers (EHPM).

"Some operators are concerned about the levels that will be proposed by the Commission as current practice in their market allows them to use high levels, which is not the case in other member states," she told NutraIngredients.com.

"This is the case in Ireland, although the official response of the government to the Commission consultation clearly stated that their policy would be to allow rather low levels of vitamins and minerals, contrary to what seems to be the actual market practice in Ireland."

EU competitiveness

Swinging back to the other end of the debate, FDII's support of the treaty was rooted in the economic growth argument.

By reforming how decisions are made in the EU, making the bloc more efficient and effective, the treaty would have ensured continued economic growth and prosperity, fostering the export-led growth of the food and drink sector, said the group.

However, as pointed out by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), there was very little in the Lisbon Treaty that would actually enhance the business landscape.

According to the group, which lobbies for British businesses, the treaty did not deliver "on the issues that matter" for businesses, in the sense that it did not contribute to a competitive Europe.

The EU "should now focus on ensuring it creates and maintains a competitive environment for business and citizens alike," says CBI.

And in the meantime, the European food industry must simply return from the distractions of the school yard and get back to work.


Expense Allowance Abuse by MEPs

- JohninBasel, YouTube, June 17, 2008


Hans-Peter Martin and RTL in the fight against abuse of expense allowances:

A Member of the European Parliament (MEP) in Brussels earns approx. 14,700 euros per month (~£11,587), according to this RTL Report (in German with English subtitles). How much the MEPs have to work (or don't work) for their EUR14,700 is the subject of this on-site RTL investigation in Brussels. The video is about MEPs who sign in on attendance lists and then disappear immediately for their weekend. RTL investigating journalists were thrown out of the EU building in Brussels during their work.

Some MEPs try to justify themselves, some to invent excuses, again others flee before the camera and dash off to lifts or also in their confusion bump into the wall (German MEP of the Green Party)!

One-man crusader Hans-Peter Martin, MEP from Austria:

"A Member of the European Parliament earns on an average more than the German Chancellor Frau Merkel and one wants to hide this from the electorate. Therefore, one obviously must get rid of reporters investigating this."

*by Andrew Apel, guest editor