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July 29, 2008


GM Papaya for India; Super Tobacco; Burkina Faso Moves Forward; Label Debate; Rising Food Prices, Adios Andy!


* Will a Genetically Modified Papaya Seed Help Indian Farmers?
* Super-tobacco sees red at land mines
* Burkina launches Monsanto GMO cotton to boost crop
* Negative attitudes 'hindering' China GM commercialisation
* Labeling Genetically Modified Food: The Philosophical and Legal Debate
* India: Help farmers with quality GE seeds
* GM trials need more protection says leading scientist
* The Economist debate: Rising food prices
* Risk Assessment for GM Crops: Stress-Tolerant Crops
* Thank you Andy Apel!


Will a Genetically Modified Papaya Seed Help Indian Farmers?
'Tamil Nadu Agricultural University aims to eliminate a virus plaguing India's papaya crops'
- Span, July 2008 (New Delhi, India)

In the face of soaring global food prices, more and more countries are looking to genetically modified, or GM, crops as the solution to feeding their people. India itself took another step forward in the cultivation of these crops in October 2007: the Missouri-based global seed giant, Monsanto, donated technology to Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, for developing a papaya resistant to the ringspot virus, which causes India's farmers heavy losses. The project's aim is to increase papaya production in India by 750 million kilograms.

The new papaya, resistant to the ringspot virus, was introduced in Hawaii in the 1990s, and is now successfully cultivated there. Scientists at the Centre for Plant Molecular Biology at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University are working to develop a new papaya variety specifically to resist the virus under Indian conditions.

"Hopefully, the GM papaya will be made available to papaya farmers in about four to five years," says P. Balasubramanian, director of the center. The Government of India has approved the technology transfer.

Since the early 1980s, some agricultural scientists and research institutions have seen GM plants as the answer to food shortages and malnutrition. In their view of the coming "Evergreen Revolution," high-yielding, pest-resistant plants will boost the agricultural production of developing countries. What Monsanto donated is a 10-year, "royalty-free, non-exclusive license to use the technology to develop, identify, characterize and commercialize" the virus-resistant papaya in India, according to Bhagirath Choudhary, national coordinator of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). It is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that helps transfer biotechnologies to developing countries so poor farmers can produce more crops. ISAAA's work is funded by charitable institutions and government agencies, with technology and training donated by corporations. According to Choudhary, "This is an important contribution toward alleviation of poverty of small, resource-poor farmers, as papaya ringspot virus is the most devastating disease of papaya."

Clive James, a Canadian who chairs the ISAAA Board of Directors and has visited India twice in the past year to promote the development and use of biotechnology, goes even further when describing the benefits. "Our philosophy is that the aim should be to increase productivity on the cropland that we have today, that is 1.5 million hectares. If you can double the production on the land that is already in agriculture, then you will not have to chop down forests and encroach on sanctuaries of biodiversity."

Some 2.5 billion kilograms of papaya are produced annually in India, in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. It is eaten fresh and cooked and processed into pickles, jams, candies, fruit drinks and juices. Papain, an enzyme purified from papaya latex, is extracted for export. The enzyme is used in the medicine and textile industries, breweries, leather processing and meat tenderizing. In light of the significance of papaya to the Indian economy, the introduction of a GM variety is likely to have a huge impact. Choudhary estimates that the technology promises a potential benefit of Rs. 112.5 million for India's papaya industry.

What are the conditions of the Monsanto donation? According to ISAAA's James, it is true that corporations donate a new technology or product to potential customers to build a market, but that is not the case here. The 10-year, royalty-free period for Tamil Nadu Agricultural University "is just a project timeframe. The donation will continue. Monsanto will not come back and say, 'You owe us some royalties now that the 10 years is over.'"

James feels that fears about allergic reactions from GM foods can be addressed. He cites a case, often pointed out by opponents of GM foods as an example of what can go wrong with biotechnology, in which a gene from Brazil nut inserted in a variety of corn was found to cause an allergic reaction. James says the case actually shows that the system works, that a gene found to cause an allergy can be identified and removed.

While hopes are high that the new papaya will solve one problem related to papaya cultivation, it's important to point out that GM seeds aren't meant to solve all the problems a farmer faces. Plants designed to resist one pest may still be damaged by others. Insects and viruses can evolve to overcome the resistance engineered into the plant. In such cases, farmers growing GM crops still need to spray pesticides.

Laws and regulatory committees in India are still grappling with advances in genetic engineering. The Indian Council of Medical Research recently drafted guidelines on the nutritional and safety assessment of GM foods (www. icmr.nic.in). The draft guidelines specify how GM foods should be tested and emphasize that they must be shown to be as non-toxic and non-allergenic as their traditional counterparts, and nutritionally superior to their non-GM equivalents if they are to be approved for commercial production in India.

James suggests that the involvement of private companies, philanthropic organizations and government agencies working together to improve crop yields can enhance sustainability. "I think in many developing countries there is often the view that the private sector is a negative force, rather than a positive one," says James. He argues that government monopolies are no different than corporate ones, and are sometimes worse. "So a better working relationship between the two isŠget the best of the private sector, best of the public sector together and build new programs where they have roles that reflect their comparative advantages." This is ISAAA's role, he says. "The best contribution that they [the private sector] can make is technology, which has cost millions to develop, that can be used for the alleviation of poverty and hunger."

Meanwhile, papaya continues to rank high in research objectives. Choudhary says, "Papaya technology is listed as a priority technology under the Agricultural Knowledge Initiative between the United States and India. The ISAAA is already implementing the ringspot virus-resistant papaya technology donated by Monsanto and improving the shelf life of papaya using a delayed ripening technology donated by Syngenta through the Papaya Biotechnology Network of Southeast Asia."

Because of the economic significance of the crop in India, the development of GM papaya is sure to be closely watched by all stakeholders.

Please share your views on this article. Write to editorspan@state.gov

How GM Crops Work
Under millennia-old conventional plant breeding methods, closely related plants are cross-bred to produce new varieties that are stronger or tastier or yield larger quantities. Genetic engineering provides a more precise way of obtaining the desired traits in a plant, but it goes beyond simple recombination, introducing genes from an entirely different species, usually a bacterium, yeast or virus. This alters a plant's genetic material, or DNA, in a way that is not possible in the wild or by using conventional techniques. In a successful experiment, the desirable new trait reliably appears in the plant generation after generation. Researchers usually work on improving a plant's shelf-life, salt tolerance, drought resistance, nutrient content, pest resistance or disease resistance. To protect a papaya, a gene coding for the coat protein (the outer layer) of papaya ringspot virus is fired into the papaya's own DNA. The virus may attack the plant but cannot multiply further because its own coat protein gene is locked up by the gene introduced in the plant. The plant is thus resistant to the virus.

Biotech Crops Around the World
According to ISAAA, India is one of 23 countries growing GM crops. In fact, the number of developing countries planting GM crops (12) is slightly higher than the number of industrialized countries planting them (11). Twelve million farmers grow GM crops on 114 million hectares worldwide. Eleven million of those farmers are resource-poor. The United States is the top grower of GM crops, with 23.32 million hectares of GM soybeans and 26.96 million hectares of GM corn, or 73 percent of all U.S. corn grown. Hawaii has long served as the world's largest outdoor biotechnology laboratory, and farmers like Albert Kung (above) are growing genetically modified papayas. At Kamiya Farm in Laie, Hawaii, Kung checks the leaves on a genetically engineered papaya tree.

Partnerships in Agricultural Research
An agricultural biotechnology conference, co-sponsored by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was held in New Delhi in March 2008, bringing together eminent Indian and American scientists and researchers in the field of agricultural biotechnology.

The conference on "Harnessing the Benefits of Biotechnology" provided a platform for experts from both countries to discuss their strategies for increased research collaboration and public-private partnerships that will result in the improvement of agricultural crops to benefit farmers and consumers.

Many Indian and American institutions participated in the workshop, including the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, the National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Punjab Agricultural University, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Washington University and the University of Missouri.



Super-tobacco sees red at land mines

- Tamar Kahn, Business Day, South Africa, July 22, 2008

CAPE TOWN - Scientists from the University of Stellenbosch have teamed up with Danish biotechnology firm Aresa to test a genetically engineered tobacco plant that turns red when it grows near land mines, offering hope of a cheap way to help clear fields in post-conflict zones.

More than 80 countries are affected by land mines. Angola, Afghanistan, Burundi, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chechnya, Colombia, Iraq, Nepal and Sri Lanka are worst affected. Land mines are cleared by explosives experts who put a stick in the ground to locate them, or they use remote devices or sniffer dogs, which are all costly and dangerous processes that typically involve a random check of just a fraction of the area . If the genetically engineered tobacco plants prove successful, they would offer a simple way to assess an entire field.

Aresa has already developed its "RedDetect" technology in a weed called Thales cress, which turns from green to autumnal red when it detects nitrogen dioxide leaching from mines buried in the soil. However, scientists realised the Thales cress would not be practical because it was too small to be spotted easily from a distance, said Stellenbosch researcher Estelle Kempen.

Aresa has now turned its sights on tobacco, which grows easily in most parts of the world. Field trials are already under way in Serbia, and researchers from Stellenbosch have applied to the registrar of the Genetically Modified Organisms Act for permission to conduct similar research.

Scientists want to assess how the genetically engineered tobacco responds to drought and extreme temperatures, Kempen said. The trials, if approved, would be conducted at the Welgevallen experimental farm on the outskirts of Stellenbosch. The plants would be analysed and destroyed before they began flowering to minimise the risk of environmental contamination, she said.

The plant would be used solely for humanitarian purposes, and there were no plans to seek a commercial permit. Tobacco plants usually only produce red plant pigments in their flowers, which arises from a natural compound called anthocyanin, which is found in fruit such as apples and tomatoes. The technology developed by Aresa activates anthocyanin in the tobacco plant's leaves if there is soil contamination from explosives such as land mines.


Burkina launches Monsanto GMO cotton to boost crop

- Mathieu Bonkoungou Reuters,19 Jul 2008,

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Cotton farmers in Burkina Faso will soon be planting genetically modified seeds that could boost output and cut costs after the government became the first in West Africa to approve GMO cotton for general use this week.

Bt cotton, developed by U.S. farming biotechnology leader Monsanto, contains a bacterial protein that deters insects, reducing the need for costly pesticides and raising yields by around 30 percent, Burkinabe researchers said.

Two strains of Bt cotton, both developed from local varieties, have been approved for production and general sale, Zourata Lompo, director of Burkina Faso's National Biosecurity Agency (ANB) told a news conference on Thursday. "This year we have authorised 15,000 hectares for seed production and if the socio-economic evaluation by our field workers is conclusive there is no reason why next season we won't move to generalised production of genetically modified cotton," Lompo said.

Burkina has been the top cotton producer in West Africa in recent years, although its harvest slumped to 360,000 tonnes in the 2007-08 season from 660,000 tonnes the previous year. Researchers at Burkina Faso's INERA agricultural research institute said Bt cotton required only two pesticide treatments per season, compared with six or eight for non-modified cotton.

That cut pesticide use by at least 60 percent. Pesticides currently make up around 30 percent of production costs. It translates into a saving of around 35,000 CFA francs per hectare each season, while the 30 percent higher yield from Bt cotton increases revenues by around 55,000 CFA, the researchers said.

Royalties from seed production will be split with local farmers receiving 72 percent of seed sales and Monsanto 28 percent, officials said. "It's a co-ownership scheme. The gene belongs to Monsanto, but all the scientific work to select and evaluate performance and toxicity has been done by Burkinabe scientists on Burkinabe varieties," Lompo said.

St. Louis-based Monsanto's cotton, which is already grown in some other countries around the world, has a gene derived from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that protects the plants from specific lepidopteron insect pests, the company says.

Use of genetically modified crops for food and textiles has increased in recent years but has faced opposition from environmentalists who say the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could upset delicately balanced habitats or even lead to uncontrolled super species.

Last year, 23 countries planted genetically modified crops, Monsanto said. Only one, South Africa, was on the continent where advocates like Monsanto say GMO crops could have their greatest impact in increasing food output and fighting poverty.

Burkina National Cotton Producers' Union President Francois Traore said farmers had nothing to fear from GMO cotton. "We are going ahead because we have followed the process since the start and the researchers have proved our fears were unfounded. The trials have demonstrated that at a productivity level, we will earn more with Bt cotton," he said.



Negative attitudes 'hindering' China GM commercialisation

- Jia Hepeng, SciDev.net, 24 July 2008

[BARCELONA] European nations should take a more positive attitude towards genetically modified (GM) food because their negative stance is seriously affecting developing world policies regarding commercialisation of GM crops to feed hungry people, says a leading Chinese scientist.

"The attitudes of Chinese policymakers are deeply influenced by your views and I appeal to you to reconsider your stance so that modern agricultural technologies can benefit more people in China and other developing countries," said Yang Huanming, director of the Beijing Genomics Institute and China's leading researcher of human genomics and rice genomics projects.

Yang's remark was made on 18 July at a session organised by European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLES) during the Euroscience Open Forum. It came days after the Chinese government approved a gigantic seeding research project that focuses on using a GM approach to improve plants' nutrition, yield, and tolerance to drought and floods.

Details of the research project were not revealed, but the China Daily newspaper reported that the funding for the long-term research programme (2006-2020) could be up to 20 billion Chinese yuan (US$2.92 billion), around 20 per cent of which would be used for biosafety inspection of new species and infrastructure construction.

Yang believes that this project will make the approval of GM crops easier, especially GM rice of which several varieties are under pre-commercialisation trials in China. But environmental organisations, like Greenpeace, say that GM food poses a danger. They say there is risk of 'gene pollution' - where the inserted gene of GM plants affects non-target plants of similar kinds via pollination. Earlier this year, Chinese scientists developed a strategy that could potentially minimise this (see New method 'prevents spread of GM plants').

Yang told SciDev.Net that claims made by environmental organisations have posed a major barrier to commercialisation. "[Environmental groups] say the majority of Chinese agricultural products will be polluted by the modified genes, seriously influencing Chinese exports to Europe [as the continent will ban Chinese exports due to the risk of gene pollution]," Yang says. "This claim is threatening enough to some policymakers although there is no scientific evidence of 'gene pollution'."

David McConnell, a professor of biotechnology at Trinity College, Dublin and co-vice chairman of EAGLES, welcomes Yang's appeals. "These voices from the developing world help European scientists to deliver more correct sounds, such as scientific basis of GM foods, to European public," he told SciDev.Net.

"The GM-free organic farming in Europe [cherished by environmental groups] relies on huge government and financial support and cannot be realised among small farmers in the developing countries with urgent need for modern agricultural biotechnologies to improve their productivity."


Labeling Genetically Modified Food: The Philosophical and Legal Debate

- Paul Weirich , Oxford University Press, Nov 2007, Pages: 272

Food products with genetically modified (GM) ingredients are common, yet many consumers are unaware of this. When polled, consumers say that they want to know whether their food contains GM ingredients, just as many want to know whether their food is natural or organic. Informing consumers is a major motivation for labelling. But labelling need not be mandatory. Consumers who want GM-free products will pay a premium to support voluntary labelling.

Why do consumers want to know about GM ingredients? GM foods are tested to ensure safety and have been on the market for more than a decade. Still, many consumers, including some with food allergies, want to be cautious. Also, GM crops may affect neighbouring plants through pollen drift. Despite tests for environmental impact, some consumers may worry that GM crops will adversely effect the environment. The study of risk and its management raises questions not settled by the life sciences alone.

This book surveys various labelling policies and the cases for them. It is the first comprehensive, interdisciplinary treatment of the debate about labelling genetically modified food. The contributors include philosophers, bio ethicists, food and agricultural scientists, attorneys/legal scholars, and economists.

Paul Weirich is Professor of Philosophy at University of Missouri-Columbia.


1. A Scientific Perspective on Labeling Genetically Modified Food, Michael W. Pariza

2. Genetically Modified Organisms for Agricultural Food Production: The Extent of the Art and the State of the Science, R. Michael Roberts

3. Biotechnology and the Food Label: A Legal Perspective, Frederick Degnan

4. Traceability and Labeling of GM Food and Feed in the European Union, Margaret Rosso Grossman

5. Genetically Engineered Animals and the Ethics of Food Labeling, Robert Streiffer and Alan Rubel

6. Mandatory GE Labels and Consumer Autonomy, Peter Markie

7. Market Evidence of Consumer Response to Mandated Genetically Modified Food Labels, Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, Leonie A Marks, and Steven S. Vickner

8. Frankenfood Free: Consumer Sovereignty, Federal Regulation and Industry Control in Marketing and Choosing Food in the U.S., Thomas O. McGarity

9. Regulatory Barriers to Consumer Information, Philip G. Peters and Thomas A. Lambert

10. Labeling GM Foods: Rights, Interests, Enforcement, and Institutional Options, Clark Wolf

11. Different Conceptions of Food Labels and Acceptable Risks: Some Contingent/Institutional Considerations in Favor of Labeling, Carl Cranor

12. Using Food Labels to Regulate Risks, Paul Weirich


What's in your food?

- Letter to the editor, The Economist, July 2008

SIR - Your article on the regulation of pesticides should have pointed out that slightly exceeding the "maximum residue levels" in some food, as occasionally happens, is a risk perhaps equivalent to the likelihood of being hit on the head by a meteorite ("A balance of risk", July 5th). Of greater risk to humans is the exposure to thousands of pesticides made naturally by plants (to kill herbivorous insects) and found in all fruits and vegetables. The average daily diet contains a quarter teaspoon of natural nerve toxins, endocrine disrupters, carcinogens and chemicals that damage chromosomes, skin, blood and the thyroid.

Humans are not adapted to these natural chemicals, in which the margin of safety is about tenfold compared with traces in synthetic pesticides (some 10,000-fold higher). Yet unqualified environmental groups and European bureaucrats are obsessed with agricultural pesticide safety, basing their assumptions on unjustified fear and anxiety. Neither makes for good policy.

Anthony Trewavas, Professor of plant biochemistry, Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, Edinburgh, UK

Letter and an excellent discussion on the issue at http://www.badscience.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=5702&start=0&st=0&sk=t&sd=a&hilit=anthony


India: Help farmers with quality GE seeds

- C Kameswara Rao, Deccan Herald, July 29, 2008


'Govts can work with existing consumer protection laws to ensure productivity of GE crop.'

Currently, pest resistant Bt cotton is the only commercialised genetically engineered (GE) crop in India. Hybrids with the single bacterial gene Cry 1Ac (mostly Bollgard I of Monsanto) predominate, although there is a small volume of Bollgard II, the hybrids with two staked bacterial genes, Cry 1Ac and Cry 1Ab, that are grown in some zones.

Commercialisation of Bt cotton brought to the fore a number of difficulties the farmers face in the matter of seed, of both GE and non-GE crops. When more GE crops become commercialised the situation would worsen. Governmental intervention and the cooperation of the seed industry are needed to safeguard farmers' interests.
The Indian Seeds Act, 1966 regulates only notified varieties but seed certification by governmental agencies is merely optional. There is a comprehensive Seeds Bill, 2004 which provides for registration, certification and seed testing, regulated by a Central and several State Committees.

Under the Seed Bill, 2004, a GE variety, cleared by the Indian regulatory authority for commercialisation would have to be registered. GE crop varieties involving 'Genetic Use Restriction Technology and Terminator Technology' are prohibited. Certification of registered seed for quality and reliability by recognised agencies would be mandatory, whether GE or not. Sale of seed of spurious transgenic varieties and unregistered and uncertified seed attracts punitive provisions.

The Seed Bill, 2004, has been in cold storage on account of pressure from both the seed industry and groups with conflicting interests, all of which claim to speak for the farmers. When this Bill comes into force, there would certainly be a far greater protection for the farmer and consumer, but the Governments have adequate power to act even within the purview of the Seed Act of 1966 and consumer protection laws that are currently in force, to ensure productivity through quality and reliability of the seed. However, there are some important interventions that can be brought about.

First, among them, could be through mandatory registration and notification of GE crop varieties before a GE crop is approved by the regulatory authority for commercialisation. By the time a GE crop is approved for commercialisation, mandatory seed certification by various seed certification agencies in different states should be prepared to evaluate that particular GE crop for seed germination, seedling viability, agronomic factors and the suitability of the variety for cultivation.

Currently, there are no Seed Certification Agencies in any state that are involved in evaluation and certification of Bt cotton seeds. So, there is no guarantee that a particular variety sold in an area is suitable to be grown there.
Third, it should be ensured that the seed of a GE crop is sold at the officially determined prices through recognised private and/or public sector agencies. This will prevent reuse of those seeds.

Allegations of the existence of a spurious seed market have been made. Strict measures must be taken to root out black market in preventing the sale of illegal GE seeds.

It is also imperative to have a mechanism in place to educate farmers and guide them on the suitability of a GE variety to their land and the application of fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation methods. Extension personnel at the State or district level, officers from the Department of Agriculture and scientists from agricultural universities can be roped in to educate farmers.

The Bt cotton farmers have had no benefit of any professional advice and are left to their fate, once the seed is sold. Currently, there is a glut of Bt cotton hybrids, with the farmer being no wiser about which variety he should cultivate and how. Bt cotton is being grown in areas where it should not be grown such as on red soils, particularly as a rain fed crop. The farmer often does not plant a refugium and indulges in panic excessive insecticide application. The civil society should help the farmers with right information.

(The writer is executive secretary of the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore)


GM trials need more protection says leading scientist

- William Surman. FARMERS GUARDIAN (UK), 28th July, 2008


ONE of Britain's leading GM scientists will meet with Environment Minster Phil Woolas to discuss new ways to protect GM field trials in the UK.

Professor Howard Atkinson from Leeds University had been conducting the only GM trial to be approved by the Government this year until anti-GM activists destroyed it last month.

He will meet Mr Woolas when Parliament returns from recess in an attempt to demonstrate the value of protecting GM field trials in the UK.

"Our trial was trying to control potato cyst nematodes. These pests are a serious constraint to British potato production costing the industry around £50 million a year.

"If we could develop a control then it would benefit agriculture here and worldwide where these pests cost farmers £75 billion annually," he said.

Prof Atkinson's trials were bought to a premature end when vandals destroyed 400 potato plants that took up less than 0.1 hectare.

"We have no evidence that the 400 transgenic plants we released posed any environmental concern, particularly when considered in the context of the annual UK potato crop of 8,000 million plants. Neither were the plants going to enter the food chain," said Prof Atkinson.

Under European law the UK is duty bound to issue a six-figure grid reference to any GM-trial it approves. The theory is to inform nearby growers and farmers but in reality it provides activists with a target.

Prof Atkinson argued that trials should be closely regulated but that their location should not be made public.

"We need some academic freedom to increase our knowledge. I don't believe that GM is a panacea but it is part of the solution. When you consider that 33 per cent of the African population is undernourished and population continues to increase, what can you do? We think we can help," he said.

Since 2000 the UK has conducted 54 GM field trials and nearly all have been vandalised by activists. There are still no commercially grown GM crops in the UK.

However, GM crops have been grown commercially worldwide since 1996 and last year over 114 million hectares of GM were grown across the world.

New research presented in the AgBioForum revealed that farm gate benefits from GM reached £3.5 billion in 2006 and that the technology reduced pesticide spraying by 286 million kg.

However, anti-GM campaigners maintain that GM crops do not increase yields and are potentially damaging to the environment and human health.


BBC Farming Today

- BBC Radio 4, July 29, 2008

The professor in charge of a trial of GM potatoes has compared the trashing of the crops to the burning of books in Nazi Germany. The trial by Leeds University was supposed to last three years but was destroyed in June, just a few weeks after it had started. Professor Howard Atkinson was so frustrated he used a London press conference to attack anti GM campaigners. Friends of the Earth have called on him to apologise. Listen Again to hear more or download a podcast.

Nick, southampton
I agree with Howard Atkinson - there are some people whose minds are closed to knowledge. I suspect activists trash GM crop trials because they know the results won't back up their biased position on GM. It seems that secret trials are the only way to go.As I care about the environment I hope we will see food from GM crops on our supermarket shelves sometime in the not too distant future.

Thomas Van Oss
The Friends of The Earth spokesperson who advocated public identification of all GM food trial sites this morning completely undermined that organisation's reputation for even-handednesses. How can we debate the pros and cons of GM if all the trials are sabotaged? Friends of the Earth should know better (or the spokesperson should be replaced). I have just cancelled my membership.

Link and more discussion at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/news/farmingtoday/index.shtml


Gates Foundation Sponsors Banana Conference

- Meridian Institute, http://www.merid.org

The U.S.-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has provided US$74,000 in support for a Pan-African conference that aims to link state-of-the-art banana research with new markets for the sale of African bananas. The conference will develop a 10-year research-for-development strategy aimed at stimulating trade and promoting the growth of the banana industry across Africa. The "Banana Conference 2008" will take place October 5-9, 2008 in Mombasa, Kenya.

It is being organized and coordinated by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in cooperation with: Bioversity International, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), and the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) and is being supported by: the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda and the Du Roi group of companies, which specialize in the sub tropical fruit industry. Banana researchers, major industry players, and farmers' groups will be participating in the conference.

The Gates Foundation's grant will be used to support the participation at the conference of Africa-based farmers' groups, cooperatives, and entrepreneurs, who they will have the opportunity to present their products and services at stands and booths. The conference will be opened by Anna Tibaijuka, undersecretary-general of the UN and director of UN-HABITAT and by Karl Falkenberg, deputy director general for trade with the European Commission. The press release can be viewed online at the link below.



The Economist debate: Rising food prices

- JOHN PARKER Jul 29th 2008, http://www.economist.com/debate/index.cfm?action=article&debate_id=10&story_id=11829079

Many public debates consist of people talking past each other. Both of our protagonists in the food debate, however, start in the same place: that whether the rise in food prices is good or bad depends in part on other things.

As Joachim von Braun says for the opposition, "Rising food prices are not always bad, or bad for everyone." It depends, as Homi Kharas says for the proposition: "The impact of high food prices depends on each household's income and consumption patterns. Beyond this, the impact also depends on what happens to labour, land and credit markets." In other words, the rise in food prices is not necessarily good or bad in itself.

But having agreed on that point, our protagonists stake out their differences. For Mr von Braun, it is the speed, rather than the fact of the price increase that matters. Prices have risen so quickly-the food index of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) rose by 50% in the year to May 2008, he says-that people have not been able to adjust. Or rather, "adjustment" has taken the form of the poor eating less and going hungry. Higher food prices have hurt the poor, encouraged social unrest and created a great deal of wider economic uncertainty, as countries import inflation.

For Mr Kharas, it is the fact of the increase that matters more. This is because he focuses on feeding people tomorrow, rather than today. He argues that the big challenge for the world over the next decades will be to feed the extra 90m people who are added to the global population each year; that this cannot be done using current farm productivity, based on the food prices that have prevailed for the past ten years or so and that therefore the world needs higher food prices to drive up investment and boost agricultural productivity.

The two men also disagree about how much, or how quickly, higher prices will feed through to improved productivity. Mr Kharas argues the benefits are already visible: the FAO's forecast for this year's world cereals harvest, he says, shows a significant rise. He points out that share prices in farm-machinery companies such as John Deere are soaring, a sure sign of rising agricultural investment.

Mr von Braun replies that cack-handed government policies and various sorts of market failure are harming the smooth self-correction of food markets and he argues that these distortions may be getting worse because of higher prices. Large food-exporting countries have been imposing export bans to keep food at home, for example.

Both men end by defining their conclusions as matters of balance and judgment, not principle. "Under current conditions," says Mr von Braun, "the effects of high food prices are largely negative," implying that if conditions were to change, the impact might be different too. And he enumerates some of the changes he thinks would be desirable.

"The spectre of hunger is ugly," says Mr Kharas. "Nor should we leap to the conclusion that food prices at today's levels are here to stay." The implication is that there are many losers and even the gains he sees might not be sustained.

Such fair-mindedness is important in any debate, but the more so when both sides could define the terms of debate to their own advantage. The very phrase "food crisis" may predispose participants against a proposition that there is an upside to rising prices. On the other hand, it's an ill wind that blows absolutely nobody any good; there is always some sort of upside. The question for the audience is how big, and whether it is big enough to be meaningful.

Debate on rising food prices at http://www.economist.com/debate/index.cfm?debate_id=10&action=hall


Planning Environmental Risk Assessment for Genetically Modified Crops: Problem Formulation for Stress-Tolerant Crops.
- T. Nickson2008. Plant Physiology. 147: 494-502

A scientifically sound environmental risk assessment is required for crops derived from modern biotechnology (also referred to as genetically modified [GM]) prior to unrestricted release into the environment. The scientific principles underlying the environmental risk assessments completed for herbicide-tolerant and insect-protected GM crops commercialized to date are now being applied to crops currently under development that are modified for improved tolerance to abiotic stresses.

These principles, and the processes built upon them, have been shown to be sufficiently robust to provide the appropriate information for regulatory decision making and to ensure an adequate level of environmental protection. This article describes the initial steps in the environmental risk assessment process and illustrates an approach that could be taken for GM crops tolerant to an abiotic stress (e.g. water, salt, cold, and heat). The discussion below begins with an overview of the initial steps in an environmental risk assessment, known as problem formulation (US EPA, 1998).

A general overview describing how problem formulation has been applied for the first GM crops is presented next. Finally, the approach is applied to a hypothetical drought-tolerant maize (Zea mays) product as an example of how problem formulation can guide the environmental risk assessment for a specific abiotic stress tolerant crop.


Andy Apel, Thank you very much!!

I thank Mr. Andrew Apel who helped put together this newsletter for the past 16 months. As all of you would surely agree, Andy did a terrific job with AgBioView. When I asked him to help me out for one week during my travel in March 2007, little did I realize that he would continue to do this for so long, and do it pro bono with such enthusiasm and professionalism!

I am much grateful to Andy for his service to AgBioWorld, and deeply indebted to him. I wish him great success as he moves on to newer challenges.

- Prakash

p.s. Andy just got married, and this is a good time to wish him and Maurren a happy married life!