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July 22, 2008


GM for reducing allergies, obesity and hunger; Chinese GM rice in UK


* CMS pigeonpea hybrid commercialized
* Nigeria: 'GM food good'
* GM bread could fight obesity
* Allergen-free GM plants may boost food safety
* US will make "enormous" subsidy cuts
* Global Impact of Biotech Crops: 1996-2006
* Online map of German GM cultivation
* Chinese GM rice in UK


World's first CMS pigeonpea hybrid commercialized

- International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (press release), web dated July 16, 2008


Red gram or pigeonpea is an important pulse crop of India where it is grown on about 3.5 million ha. It is a favorite dal (tuar or arhar) of Indian cuisine. It is a very suitable crop for rainfed agriculture because it is drought tolerant, needs minimum inputs and produces reasonable yields under unfavorable agro-ecological conditions.

Over the past 50 years, pigeonpea productivity has not increased in spite of several new varieties being released. To achieve a breakthrough in yield, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) developed an innovative breeding technology to develop commercial hybrids in this crop, the first such attempt in any food legume. ICRISAT is working with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, State Agricultural Universities, Seed Corporations, and private seed companies in this effort.

After 25 years of intense research, the world's first cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) based pigeonpea hybrid ICPH 2671 was developed by ICRISAT in 2005, and has been named as "Pushkal" by Pravardhan Seeds. This hybrid is suitable for cultivation in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Pushkal was launched today by the Director General of ICRISAT, Dr William D Dar. Also present were Mr Murahari Rao, Managing Director of Pravardhan Seeds and senior officials from ICRISAT and Pravardhan Seeds.

Launching the hybrid for cultivation, Dr William Dar said that the world is witnessing marked volatility in food and energy prices. Reduced global stocks, climate change, rising human population, natural calamities such as droughts, coupled with speculative response to the market signals are a few reasons for spiraling prices of food and other essential commodities. Expressing his concern, Dr Dar said that nearly every agricultural commodity is fueling the rising price trend.

Stressing the need for urgent attention, Dr Dar said that the bulk of food proteins in India are derived from pulse crops that are generally grown under low-input and risk-prone marginal environments with low and unstable yields. The Green Revolution of the 1970s ignored legumes that are a major source of protein in the developing world. At present the protein availability in India is less than one-third of the recommended dietary allowance.

Since the food production balance in India will always remain in favor of cereals, the issue of protein availability assumes greater significance. Options such as increasing the pulses growing area, intensive cropping, and enhanced inputs have limited scope in India. Therefore, to harvest additional protein the cultivation of hybrid legumes is the most prudent alternative, Dr Dar opined.

Dr CLL Gowda, Global Theme Leader, Crop Improvement, ICRISAT, said that the CMS based hybrid seed technology is ready for take off with all its major components in place. The major responsibility, now, is to take this research product to the clients - the farmers of rainfed agriculture.Considering the high yield potential of the technology, it is expected that farmers with both small and large holdings will adopt the hybrids. Since small scale and resource poor farmers predominantly cultivate pigeonpea, it will be important to keep the seed cost within the reach of the farmers, he said.

Dr KB Saxena, the scientist behind this breakthrough, said that the new technology promises to break the yield barrier, which has been plaguing Indian agriculture for the past five decades. In achieving this milestone, Dr. Saxena and his team struggled for 35 years to overcome various scientific hurdles. He was very optimistic about the adoption of the hybrid technology. He further mentioned that in achieving this goal the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) provided full support in the research and development of this technology.

At ICRISAT the experimental hybrids have recorded 20% to150% yield advantage over the best checks, ideal for bringing the next quantum jump in yield. Eminent agricultural scientist Dr MS Swaminathan had mentioned that, "hybrid pigeonpea technology is like dwarfing genes in wheat and rice and this will create a second green revolution" in India. This breakthrough is the result of ICRISAT's strong public-private partnership.

On the basis of results from three years and 21 test locations, ICRISAT scientists believe that hybrid technology in pigeonpea has become a profound success. One of the important outcomes of the research program is Pushkal (ICPH 2671). This high yielding, disease (wilt and sterility mosaic) resistant hybrid was bred at ICRISAT and gives about 30-40% yield advantage over the popular variety Maruti. The seed production of the parental lines of Pushkal has been tried successfully.

Mr Murahari Rao, M.D. Pravardhan Seeds, said that hybrid pigeonpea technology has a great potential for enhancing yield and farmers will surely accept this hybrid and other hybrids. He also thanked ICRISAT for providing the genetic material for development of Pushkal.


Nigeria: 'Genetically Modified Food Good for Nigeria'

- Ekene Ezugwu, Daily Trust (Abuja) via AllAfrica.com, Jul. 16, 2008


At a recent roundtable Conference on the introduction of Genetically Modified Crops in Nigeria, the Minister of Science and Technology Chief (Mrs.) Grace Ekpiwhre almost shouted blue murder about the looming food crises in Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to Mrs. Ekpiwhre, a situation where food production has actually declined over the past decades calls for concern and collective efforts to arrest the trend. Between 1980 and 1985, yields of staple crops fell by an average of 8% compared to an increase of 27% in Asia and 12% in Latin America.

In the specific case of Nigeria, the current agricultural growth is put at a meager 4.5% which is far below the ever increasing food demands of our rising population. As a way of short-circulating the problem, Mrs. Ekpiwhre made a strong case for the utilization of transgenic crop technology for increased agricultural productivity, better nutrition and improved crop resistance to pests and drought.

In other words, in the words of the Minister, the option of Genetically Modified Crops, as is being developed by the National Biotechnology Development Agency, an agency of the Ministry should be explored to the maximum.

Genetically engineered Crops are Crops in which the genetic code is scientifically altered to produce foods with a desired trait. The term "genetically modified" refers to the alteration of genetic material. In essence, It is a process whereby the genes of one organism have been "cut out" and then pasted into another organism.

There has been a lot of controversy on the desirability of GM Foods/organism with foreign advocacy groups like Greenpeace raising alarm on the health risk of the foods. They argue that the food Industry should be more open and transparent in the creation and testing of GM Foods. The case is also made against GM food for the lack of scientific evidence on the effects of modified Food on human health. Critics also point to the inadequacy of safety test technology to assess potential harm as well as the fact that they allegedly carry unpredictable toxins, thereby increasing the risk of allergenic reactions.

On the contrary, GM advocates aver that GM plants are often created to resist disease and eliminate the need for pesticides. This super Crops is also said to produce a harder texture, higher nutritional value or faster growth. All said, given the large share of agriculture in our Gross Domestic Product, the importance of Biotechnology, as a national manipulation of biological objects cannot be over-emphasized.

If it is properly harnessed, biotechnology has the potential of increasing our food Production, enhancing the quality of food, guaranteeing cleaner environment and better and more target specific medicines, etc.

The National Biotechnology Development (NABDA) of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology is currently spearheading the gains of "Biotechnology" to all sectors of the Nigerian economy.

Using various genetic manipulation techniques, many Crops such as Cotton, Cowpea, Corn, Rubber, Palm tree, Cassava, Cocoa and Rice are being improved upon to produce higher yields and make them resistant to pests, diseases and environmental stresses.

The agency has successfully developed bio-resource centers in some parts of the country, the most notable being the one at Odi, Bayelsa State.

The centers teach entrepreneurs to establish farms for small to medium scale commercial production of such items as fish, snail, cane rat (grass cutter) and mushroom. It is cheering to note that the products of the Farms can be developed to the volume required for export. Many of the items are viable export commodities with high demand in the regional and international markets.

By using tissue culture technique in collaboration with Raw Materials Research and Development Council and National Root Crops Research Institute, the National Biotechnology Development Agency is mass propagating elite varieties of cassava.

At present, tissue culture planting materials developed by the Agency for hundreds of economic and food crops including yam sweet potatoes, plantain, pineapple, passion fruit etc. are being sold to interested farmers.

In order to reap maximally from Biotechnology, a technology aptly described as the "technology of hope" for its vast potentials in the food, health and environmental sustainability, the federal government must facilitate demand-driven research projects that are relevant to given ecological zones as well as specific industries.

Even though the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology has trained over 400 Farmers in various Bioenterprises, there is need to embark on intensive training of more farmers all over the country for sustainable food security via Biotechnology.

In addition, with the present foray into Biotechnology by the Science and Tech Ministry, there is need to embark on intensive public awareness programme on the value of this latest technological fad. This is necessary so as to disabuse the minds of the farmers and other stakeholders of wrong information about GM Crops. This type of information strategy must do away with Top-down approach system and adopt a mobilization strategy that would enable the farmers own the new pet technological project and view it as theirs and made for their benefits.


New flour means bread could fight obesity

A new type of flour could turn the humble loaf of bread into a weapon against obesity.

- Richard Gray, The Daily Telegraph (UK), July 18, 2008


Researchers at the National Institute for Agricultural Botany in Cambridge have produced a genetically modified form of wheat that releases fewer calories into the body compared to other varieties currently available.

Food made from the new crop is also digested slower, making people feel fuller and less likely to eat more food. The scientists hope that these qualities could help make staple foods such as bread, pasta and other flour products healthier.

It is part of a growing area of research that is attempting to create new types of low fat and healthier foods in a bid to tackle the growing worldwide obesity crisis.

The new wheat has been engineered to produce a form of starch, known as resistance starch, that is harder for the body to break down in the stomach. When the wheat is milled, processed and cooked it retains this resistance to digestion, unlike flour containing normal starch.

The scientists will reveal their research on these "super carbohydrates" at a conference today organised by the British Ecological Society.

Andy Greenland, director of research at the National Institute for Agricultural Botany, said: "Starch is what gives us the calories in bread as it is made up of long chains of sugar.

"Resistance starch has a low glycemic index and so releases the sugars far slower in comparison to normal starch. By accumulating more of this starch in the grain we can produce better calorific release properties, but it may well have beneficial effects on diet related diseases such as coronary heart disease and diabetes."The scientists, who are developing the wheat as part of a three year research project into new starch products, are now planning to test the fat fighting wheat to see if can produce good quality products like bread.

They also hope to find ways of creating the new crop without using genetic modification, as GM crops are currently banned from being grown for human consumption in the UK.

Mr Greenland added: "We are still in the research stages so these crops are not available on the market yet. At the moment the transgenic route would not be acceptable in the UK, so we would like to find ways of producing it through other methods."

Health secretary Alan Johnson last year described the threat posed by obesity in the UK as a "potential crisis on the scale of climate change".

Figures released last month revealed that nearly 23 per cent of children in their first year of primary school are now overweight or obese. In the next 20 years 70 per cent of women in the UK and 86 per cent of men will be overweight and the epidemic is expected to cost 45 billion by 2050.

Dr Colin Waine, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: "This is an extremely appealing idea as it would allow people to eat a balanced diet that is less likely to make them obese.

"Food producers do need to look at ways of producing foods that make this easier for people. It could also have a significant impact on people suffering from diabetes."

Scientists at Birmingham University have also discovered a new method to replace fat in food products by using a protein found in mushrooms. The protein creates an air filled capsule that mimics the texture of fat.

The researchers claim that the protein could be used to replace fat in foods such as salad dressings, mayonnaise, sauces and even ice cream where most of the fat is used to provide a rich texture rather than taste.

Dr Phil Cox, one of the researcher on the team, said: "It is hoped that, by making indulgent foods more healthy, the consumer will be able to continue to enjoy those foods that are currently seen as bad for you, without worrying about the fat content."


Guest ed. note: The notion of using genetic engineering to deliver "consumer benefits" like this is either paradoxical, or perverse. Those who are so well-fed that they may be tempted to embrace biotechnology to combat obesity could easily be the same people who don't want the technology used to combat malnutrition. What is worse, This feat of engineering abets one of the latest diet fads, with the most likely beneficiaries being those who have difficulty with their insulin levels. See, "'Glycemic load' of diet has no effect on weight loss", Amy Norton, Reuters via The HealthCentral Network, Apr. 19, 2007 (citing American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2007), http://www.healthcentral.com/diet-exercise/news-37192-66.html Compare, "What is the Glycemic Index?", Nutrisystem, web accessed Jul. 20, 2008, http://www.nutrisystem.com/jsps/help/faq.jsp?pageFrom=home#5 See also, n.b., "Nutrisystem Advanced Commercial", YouTube, discoverdiets, April 27, 2008, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyff0gcUPe0 and NutriSystem Inc. (Public, NASDAQ:NTRI), http://finance.google.com/finance?client=ob&q=NASDAQ:NTRI


Allergen-free GM plants may boost food safety: experts

- Stephen Daniells, Food Navigator, July 21, 2008


Advances in the field of genetic engineering may produce plants with little or no allergens, but there are limits to this approach, say Australian researchers.

Genetic modification of plants and crops has long been touted as a means of producing hypoallergenic foods, but real progress in this area is limited by overcoming the "essential requirement for some of the major allergenic proteins for normal plant function," wrote Mohan Singh and Prem Bhalla from the University of Melbourne.

"It is very unlikely that plant foods can be engineered to be completely free of allergens, but the removal of a few immunodominant allergens might reduce the severity of allergic reactions, substantially improving the safety of foods," they add in the journal Trends in Plant Science.

"It is hoped that, over time, hypoallergenic food products from genetically engineered plants will reach market shelves."

Food allergy is an area of growing concern for the industry and the public. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, over 12 million Americans have food allergies, equivalent to four percent of the population.

Allergies to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish, and account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions in the US, says the network.

In the new research focus, Singh and Bhalla from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Integrative Legume Research at the University of Melbourne review the potential of genetic engineering to produce hypoallergenic plants.

Allergen-free peanuts

Significant research has focused on removing the allergens from peanuts, as these can be deadly. The science has focused on three types of proteins: Ara h1, h2, and h3.

"Of these three allergenic proteins, the Ara h 2 glycoprotein is the most potent allergen, with nearly 50-fold greater potency than Ara h 1," wrote Singh and Bhalla.

Using gene silencing techniques, researchers have reported the production of peanut plants with virtually no Ara h2, said the reviewers.

Allergen-free tomatoes

Another plant that has received research attention is the humble tomato, said the Melbourne-based scientists. In this case, the goal has been to remove the ns-LTP protein from the fruit.

Despite advances in producing plants with ns-LTP suppression, other allergens exist in tomatoes that have evaded modification. The allergenic proteins, Lyc e 1, Lyc e 2 and Lyc c 3. Lyc e 1 are associated with profilin, a ubiquitous protein found in all eukaryotic cells, and essential for plant cell function. Attempts to modify the genes that produce these proteins have been unsuccessful, said Singh and Bhalla.

"The transgenic plants exhibited severe growth retardation along with yield reduction, however, and some transgenic lines did not bear any fruit.

"These results highlight the obstacles in removing certain plant allergenic proteins that perform essential cellular housekeeping functions," they added.

Improving the image of GM

"The availability of foods with enhanced safety profiles might help to increase the consumer acceptability of genetic engineering," wrote Singh and Bhalla.

"Genetically engineered hypoallergenic plants might one day be established as a useful adjunct to allergen avoidance as a strategy for the management of food allergy symptoms," they concluded.

All food allergies gone within a decade?

In 2006, Dutch Dutch researchers told the BA Festival of Science in England that food allergies could be consigned to the history books within a decade if the combination of biotechnology and vaccines work as planned.

Dr. Ronald van Ree from the University of Amsterdam told attendees in Norwich that the key finding of the research presented was: A clever combination of biotechnology (hypo-allergenic recombinant allergens) and vaccine-development (novel adjuvants based on anti-inflammatory molecules from pathogens) [to] provide new tools to treat food allergy.

Despite offering a potentially life-saving solution for millions around the world, acceptance of GM peanuts is not guaranteed. The GM tag continues to be one of the biggest challenges for consumer acceptance, particularly in Europe and most notably in the UK.

Source: Trends in Plant Science June 2008, Volume 13, Issue 6, Pages 257-260 "Genetic engineering for removing food allergens from plants" Authors: M.B. Singh, P.L. Bhalla


U.S. will make "enormous" cuts for WTO deal: Schwab

- Doug Palmer, Reuters, July 16, 2008


WASHINGTON - The United States is prepared to make "enormous" cuts in farm subsidy spending limits and its barriers to foreign goods to reach a breakthrough next week in world trade talks, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said on Wednesday.

"We have already signaled our willingness to put an enormous amount of market opening and subsidy discipline on the table in the context of an agreement," Schwab said in a speech to the Washington International Trade Association.

"The question now is whether these developing countries will reciprocate," she said, referring to India, Brazil, China and others forecast for strong growth in coming years.

Schwab and 30 to 40 other top trade officials from around the world are headed to Geneva this weekend in the hope of reaching a breakthrough on agriculture and manufactured goods trade in long-running world trade talks.

World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy has called the meeting, scheduled to formally begin on Monday and to potentially run for six days, the "moment of truth" for the Doha round, now in its seventh year.

The United States has been under pressure in the talks to cut its spending cap on trade-distorting farm subsidies to around $13 billion, which because of high prices and other factors is more than it spends currently.

Still, U.S. farmers say they are being asked to give up more in government support than they would receive in new export income because many developing countries do not want to open their markets.

Schwab did not say how far the United States was prepared to cut its current WTO-cap on farm subsidy spending to reach a deal. Instead, she said the fate of the round largely depend on how much major developing countries like China, India and Brazil are willing to open their markets.

At the same time, more than 80 of the WTO's poorest members would either not have to make any market openings or make only very small ones, Schwab said.

"The hardest part, in many ways, in concluding a deal is knowing when to close it," Schwab said. "In a few days, that's what we will be aiming to do and we know it will take more than U.S. leadership."

Many U.S. farm group representatives will be in Geneva next week for the talks, and key lawmakers like Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, will be watching from afar.

Baucus, like many other farm state lawmakers, has long insisted other countries must offer significant new market openings if they want the United States to sharply cut its spending cap on trade-distorting subsidies.

"He is hopeful that the ministerial can produce an acceptable way forward, but still believes that no deal is better than a bad deal for U.S. farmers, ranchers and firms," a Baucus aide said.

Agreement next week on key tariff- and subsidy-cutting formulas would accomplish a task that negotiators were originally suppose to do five years ago.

Even so, it is expected to take many more months of negotiations before a final deal could be reached.

"Unless substantial progress is made next week, we fear that the Doha round will flounder for the foreseeable future," Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a U.S. industry group, said in letters on Wednesday to developing country ambassadors in Washington.

"If, however, countries step up to the challenges and hard choices necessary ... there is an opportunity for substantial progress towards concluding negotiations in 2008 and completing the Round in 2009," Reinsch said.


Guest ed. note: Curiously, this article does not mention Europe's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a farm subsidy program which accounts for roughly 40 percent of the European Union's total annual budget, at somewhere around 55 billion Euros. Compared to the $13 billion US program, this omission is rather glaring. To keep current on an Herculean effort to identify and calculate actual CAP payments, visit http://farmsubsidy.org/


Global Impact of Biotech Crops: Socio-Economic and Environmental Effects, 1996-2006

- Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, AgBioForum, Web dated Jul. 21, 2008


Genetically modified (GM) crops have been grown commercially on a substantial scale for eleven years. This paper updates the assessment of the impact this technology is having on global agriculture from both economic and environmental perspectives. It examines specific global economic impacts on farm income and environmental impacts associated with pesticide usage and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for each of the countries where GM crops have been grown since 1996. The analysis shows that there have been substantial net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $6.94 billion in 2006 and $33.8 billion for the eleven-year period (in nominal terms). The technology has reduced pesticide spraying by 286 million kg and, as a result, decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on these crops by 15.4%. GM technology has also significantly reduced the release of GHG emissions from this cropping area, which, in 2006, was equivalent to removing 6.56 million cars from the roads.

[full text and tables at link above]


Germany publishes online map of GM cultivation

Whoever wants to know exactly where GM crops are grown in Germany need only take a look at the internet.

- GMO Compass, June 16, 2008


Since the beginning of July, the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has complemented its public register of commercially-grown or trial-released genetically modified organisms with an interactive map. While allowing easy orientation in the geographical distribution of GM crops country-wide, the resolution also may be sharpened even to the community level. Cultivation areas are listed separately on additional spreadsheets and users may choose between the read-out of commercial or trial fields. Detailed information on individual fields are given via links to a data base that begins the first introduction of the official register in 2005. The new map also features the possibility of checking for GM cultivation in a given community by entering its postal code.


Chinese rice products containing an unauthorised rice

- Food Standards Agency (media release), July 16, 2008


The Agency has provided a list of Chinese rice products tested since 12 April and found to contain Bt63 rice. In April, the European Commission adopted an emergency measure requiring imports of specified products originating or consigned from China to be certified free of the unauthorised genetically modified organism (GMO) known as 'Bt63'.

Bt63 is an unauthorised GMO and so should not be on the market.

More information about the emergency measure adopted by the Commission can be found at the link below. Chinese rice products containing Bt63 rice

Following enforcement activities carried out at ports and sampling activities carried out by local authorities and food businesses since 12 April, the products detailed in the two lists below have been found to contain Bt63 rice.

[tables follow at link above]

*Andrew Apel, guest editor