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October 7, 2008


Revising Regulations; Looming Food Crisis; Bellagio '69; Enhancing the Scent; War over GM is Back; Let Science be the Judge


* USDA Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Rule for Biotechnology Regulations
* Biotech "To The Maximum" to Avert Looming Sub-Saharn Food Crisis
* Meetings that Changed The World: Bellagio 1969 - The Green Revolution
* Genetically Enhancing the Scent of Flowers
* The War over GM is Back. Is the Truth any Clearer?
* Publish or Patent? Knowledge Dissemination in Ag Biotech
* Let Science, Not Fear, be the Judge of GM Crops
* Scare Stories Have Drowned Out the Good That GM Could Do
* Promoting a Strong Seed Sector in Sub-Saharan Africa
* Core Historical Literature of Agriculture


USDA Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Rule for Biotechnology Regulations

- USDA-APHIS/BRS October 06, 2008 http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/content/2008/10/brs340.shtml

Washington--The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposes to revise existing regulations regarding the importation, interstate movement and environmental release of certain genetically engineered (GE) organisms under the Plant Protection Act (PPA) of 2000. These proposed revisions to the regulations are in response to emerging trends in biotechnology. New regulations will address the current and future needs of the agency and provide a high level of environmental protection.

"This is the most comprehensive review and revision of our biotechnology regulations since they were first developed in 1987," said Cindy Smith, administrator of APHIS. "Revising these regulations now will allow us to ensure effective oversight for years to come."

The proposed changes will also improve regulatory processes so they are more transparent to stakeholders and the public, make more efficient use of agency resources and eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens. The proposed rule also addresses several provisions from the 2008 Farm Bill regarding the improvement of the management and oversight of GE organisms regulated under the PPA of 2000. This proposal does not cover vertebrate animals.

Proposed changes include aligning the regulations with the plant pest and noxious weed provisions of the PPA of 2000. Under the proposed rule, certain GE organisms would be subject to the regulations if they could pose a plant pest or noxious weed risk, or their plant pest or noxious weed risk is unknown.

APHIS proposes to discontinue the notification procedure but retain the permitting procedure for authorizing the importation, interstate movement or environment release of those GE organisms that fall within the scope of the regulations. The proposed permitting system could be adapted to address a wide variety of different species and genetic modifications.

The proposed regulations would improve and clarify the petition procedure to approve nonregulated status, whereby a GE organism is no longer subject to APHIS' biotechnology regulations. All previous determinations of nonregulated status made under the current regulations would continue to have nonregulated status under the revisions being proposed.

The proposed regulations would also establish a new petition procedure for APHIS to approve new conditional exemptions from the requirement to obtain a permit, which is currently done by amending the regulations. The proposed procedure would be more efficient, yet still allow for public comment.

APHIS is seeking public comment on the proposed rule. APHIS will consider all public comments submitted during the comment period before any regulatory changes are put in place. Because the public is a key partner in the rulemaking process, APHIS is scheduling three public meetings that will take place in California on Oct. 28, in Missouri on Oct. 30 and the Washington, D.C., area on Nov. 13, to allow interested parties to express their views in person. Meeting dates and locations will be published in the same Federal Register notice announcing the proposed rule.

APHIS' broad biotechnology regulatory authority falls under the scope of the PPA of 2000, which combined and modernized the authorities under which APHIS regulates certain GE organisms, including the Federal Plant Pest Act, the Plant Quarantine Act and the Noxious Weed Act.

The proposed rule is available on the APHIS Web site at http://www.aphis.usda.gov. Notice of this proposed rule is scheduled for publication in the Oct. 9 F____ederal Register. Consideration will be given to comments received on or before Nov. 24. Send two copies of postal or commercial delivery comments to Docket No. APHIS-2008-0023, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. Comments can be submitted on the Federal eRulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=DocketDetail&d=APHIS-2008-0023. Click on "Add Comments," to view public comments and related materials available electronically.

Comments received are posted on the Regulations.gov Web site and also can be viewed at USDA, Room 1141, South Building, 14th St. and Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C., between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. To facilitate entry into the comment reading room, please call (202) 690-2817.


Biotechnology "To The Maximum" to Avert Looming Sub-Saharn Food Crisis

- Seed Today, October 6, 2008, http://www.seedtoday.com

At a recent roundtable Conference on the introduction of Genetically Modified Crops in Nigeria, Nigeria's 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.

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 Nigeria's 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.

"Technology of Hope"
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 stake holders 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.


Meetings that Changed The World: Bellagio 1969: The Green Revolution

- Lowell S. Hardin, Nature 455, 470-471 (25 September 2008) | doi:10.1038/455470a; Published online 24 September 2008

'Agriculture in developing countries was transformed when scientists met aid officials and convinced them to invest in research. Lowell S. Hardin was there, and believes today's food crisis demands a similar vision.'

In late April 1969, I took a taxi up a narrow, winding road outside Bellagio on Italy's Lake Como, to a meeting called by the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, George Harrar.

My destination was the foundation's conference centre at Villa Serbelloni, one of the most spectacular settings in the world. The conference had just one aim: to help solve the world food crisis. As we came in sight of the building, with its immaculately landscaped grounds set against snow-capped mountains, I knew I would remember the view, but had little inkling that the conference would have such a profound and lasting impact on world hunger.

The world food situation was becoming ever more precarious. Populations in developing countries were growing rapidly, and traditional farming systems were not producing enough to feed them. Two years before, the brothers William and Paul Paddock had published their best-seller Famine - 1975! America's Decision: Who Will Survive? (Little, Brown), predicting among other things that India would never feed its booming population. In both 1964 and 1965, the US Food for Aid Program had shipped 5 million tonnes of wheat aid to India. Many commentators thought the situation hopeless and famine inevitable.

At the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, we were more optimistic. We already had ten years' experience of collaborating with partners in developing countries in scientific efforts to accelerate food production. One reason that Harrar had called the Bellagio conference was to help agricultural aid organizations understand why and how science - and not food shipments - was a more sustainable way to deal with world hunger. Our thinking was that if the aid groups could grasp more fully the progress being made, they could mobilize the resources needed from governments and other donor organizations. Together, a sustained assault on world hunger could be made. No time to waste

Thus, 24 of us met to thrash out a strategy for feeding the world's hungry. There were 16 leaders from the world's major foreign assistance agencies concerned with agricultural development - such as Adekke Boerma, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, John Hannah, director of the US Agency for International Development, and Robert McNamara, president of the World Bank and former defence secretary to President John Kennedy - plus eight of us consultants from the science of food production. There were no women, even though women produce much of the developing world's food.

My colleague and mentor from the Ford Foundation, Forrest 'Frosty' Hill, set the scene. In an ideal world, he said, developing countries would invest in education, research and infrastructure, building stronger public institutions and private businesses. These, in partnership with the better-educated farmers, would tackle the food crisis using science and technology, as had happened in industrialized countries during the agricultural revolution of the mid-twentieth century. "But," he said, "we are in a crisis. We cannot wait."

Urgent action was needed, but what? Many of the scientists favoured expanding the network of international agricultural research and training centres that was taking shape in developing nations. To illustrate why they thought this would be a good move, two scientists reported on the impact of the first two centres: one for improving wheat and maize, based in Mexico; and another centre that focused on rice, based in the Philippines. The scientists were Sterling Wortman of the Rockefeller Foundation, whose idea the Bellagio conference was, and Robert Chandler, director-general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. Wortman described the work of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico. This was set up in 1966, although the strategy behind it dated from the pioneering Rockefeller-Mexico programme launched in 1943. At that time the country's average wheat yields were about 740 kilograms per hectare (11 bushels per acre). By 1967, average yields were 2,690 kilograms per hectare and Mexico was a net exporter of wheat. These remarkable results were achieved with new varieties that were stocky, disease-resistant, fast-growing and highly responsive to fertilizer and improved agricultural practices.

Success with rice came even quicker. Emulating the Mexican strategy, the IRRI had launched a plant-breeding programme in 1962. At that time, the average rice yield in southeast Asia was 1,500 kilograms per hectare. By 1965, the IRRI was developing semi-dwarf, stiff-strawed, disease-resistant and fertilizer-responsive plants that could double or triple yields. One of the new varieties had a potential yield of more than 9,000 kilograms per hectare. Farmers called them miracle plants, but they were the products of intensive research and testing, and generated through improved production practices and technologies.

Harrar and Hill had invented the 'centre model' for international agricultural research. The Ford and Rockefeller foundations had already developed and financed the IRRI and the CIMMYT, as well as the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia, both established in 1967. The capital and operating costs for this effort had reached US$41.3 million and more donors were needed if the model was to be expanded to include other countries, crops and animals. We desperately needed the aid organizations as major financial partners. Gathering momentum
At one point, someone asked Hill if traditional farmers would adopt new technologies. It was the moment that the conference really began to gel. "Sure, if they are profitable enough," replied Frosty, in his homespun and persuasive tones. "In India, the new wheat varieties are in such demand that they have to guard their seed multiplication plots around the clock to prevent theft." Later the same day, when we described how investment in rice research had resulted in financial rates of return of more than 50%, McNamara stood up and said: "If you with your centres can generate returns like that I will help you raise the money you need." Hannah nodded, even suggesting that the US government might contribute a dollar for every three provided by other donors. Bellagio mobilized the world's agricultural-development organizations.

As this played out, I began to think: "Yes, we are getting to a meeting of minds." By the second day, it was clear the conference was going well. People from the aid side who had just met were on first-name terms. Equally important, aid people were talking to scientists. Serious conversations continued at tea breaks on the patio, during evening cocktails and at meals. By the closing session on the third day, our thinking was converging.

What did we agree on? First, that the key to increasing agricultural productivity in developing countries was to apply modern scientific techniques and technologies. Second, that setting up international centres of expertise in research and education was a proven shortcut to achieving this. Third, that the existing four centres should be fully funded and that another six to twelve centres should be created.

But there were concerns, too. We worried that a widespread green revolution could have unintended consequences, such as aggravating the inequalities between small farmers and large landowners. Furthermore, without careful management, intensified cropping could deplete soil and water resources and become unsustainable - which in some instances has happened. However, we concluded that world food needs outweighed such potential difficulties. Making advances in productivity sustainable remains a high-priority research goal today.

Bellagio was the catalyst. It mobilized the world's agricultural-development organizations to set in motion plans for rapidly increasing food production. It took the right mix of open-minded aid officials and dedicated scientists to achieve this, and it succeeded beyond any of our imaginings. After two follow-up conferences at Bellagio in the spring of 1970, it was agreed to set up a Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, and in 1971 the organization that carries its acronym (CGIAR) was formed, under the leadership of the World Bank.

McGeorge Bundy, president of the Ford Foundation, called the CGIAR's creation "a remarkable chapter in the diplomacy of international assistance". Robert McNamara kept his pledge to help mobilize the necessary funding. By 1975, the year the Paddock brothers had forecast famine would strike India, the green revolution in Asia was under way. India, instead of starving, had achieved food independence. More than half the wheat and rice crops planted across Asia were high-yielding varieties.

Funding for the international centres rose substantially in the years after the Bellagio meeting. In 1969 the Rockefeller and Ford foundations provided $2.3 million for four centres. Today, the CGIAR has 64 donors providing more than $450 million a year in support of 15 centres and their 850 research scientists. Regretfully, some of the centres are critically underfunded, along with most of the agricultural research programmes with which they work.

As we confront today's food crisis, it is imperative that the green revolution in Asia is revitalized and a new one launched in Africa, which missed out almost entirely the first time round. As well as the research centres' ongoing work, promising new initiatives are under way, such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, spearheaded by the Rockefeller and Bill & Melinda Gates foundations. Science and technology, including the exciting opportunities offered by genetically modified plants, have a lot more to offer the world's poor and hungry. As Norman Borlaug put it: "Responsible biotechnology is not the enemy; starvation is."

Lowell S. Hardin was a participant in the Bellagio Conference on Agricultural Development. He is assistant director of International Programs in Agriculture at Purdue University and was the Ford Foundation's program officer for Agriculture, Office of the Vice President, 1965-81; lhardin@purdue.edu


Genetically Enhancing the Scent of Flowers

- Innovations Reports, nächste Meldung, Oct 6, 2008 http://www.innovationsreport.de/

A team of scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has found a way to genetically enhance the scent of flowers and implant a scent in those that don't have one.

Smell plays an important role in our lives: It influences the way in which we choose fruit and vegetables, perfume, and even a partner. And yet, smell is not just what we smell with our noses, it's also what we taste, explains Prof. Alexander Vainstein, who is heading the team at the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment. "Aroma is of major importance for defining the taste of food."

Scent in flowers and plants is used to attract pollinating insects like bees and beetles that pass on the pollen and help in the reproduction and creation of fruit. The intensity of the scent that the flower emanates is influenced by the time of day, depending on weather, age of the flower and the species.

In research that was published recently in the Plant Biotechnology Journal, Prof. Vainstein and his research assistant Michal Moyal Ben-Tzvi succeeded, together with other researchers, to find a way of enhancing the scent of a flower by ten-fold and cause it to emit a scent during day and night - irrespective of the natural rhythm of scent production.

The development, which has been patented by Yissum, the Hebrew University's technology transfer company, is intended to be applied to other agricultural produce.

Utilizing natural components will increase and change not only the smell of fruit and vegetables, but also influence the commercial appeal of a wide array of produce.

The flower industry will also be interested in this development, explains Prof. Vainstein. "Many flowers lost their scent over many years of breeding. Recent developments will help to create flowers with increased scent as well as producing new scent components in the flowers."

Over a third of participants in Flowers and Plants Association surveys stated that scent influenced their choice of flower purchase. Floral scents are also one of the most popular smells and the perfume industry expends a great deal of effort trying to reproduce the authentic fragrance of fresh flowers.

Prof. Vainstein's lab is the only one in the world that researches both the scent and color of flowers. His greenhouse at the Hebrew University's Rehovot campus is full of genetically engineered flowers whose architecture, color and scent the researchers are trying to alter.

Israel is the Middle East's flower-producing superpower. Its flower, plant and propagation material exports bring upwards of $200 million into the economy annually. Israel is third only to the Netherlands and Kenya in supplying the EU with flowers. Each year, 1.5 billion stems are exported - twice as many as 10 years ago.


The War over GM is Back. Is the Truth any Clearer?

- Jay Rayner, The Observer, October 5 2008

Genetically modified foods were sidelined in Britain 10 years ago amid a furious assault on 'Frankenstein foods'. Now climate change and world hunger have placed them back on the agenda. The ferocious debate is again splitting the science, political and environmental communities. But, asks Observer food expert Jay Rayner, what's the real truth about GM?

Genetically modified foods were sidelined in Britain 10 years ago amid a furious assault on 'Frankenstein foods'. Now climate change and world hunger have placed them back on the agenda. The ferocious debate is again splitting the science, political and environmental communities. But, asks Observer food expert Jay Rayner, what's the real truth about GM?

Last week's big food story was one of haves and have nots. The haves include Tesco, which announced half-year profits of £1.5bn on the back of rising global food prices and booming sales of organics. The shelves are full and business is brisk. The have nots were the benighted populations of Ethiopia and Somalia in the Horn of Africa, which, the UN warns, is heading into the worst famine in generations. The one thing these two stories share is a negative: British supermarkets and large slabs of Africa are both entirely free of genetically modified foods.

According to the government's former chief scientist, Sir David King, these narratives are completely intertwined.

In a recent speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, King accused the British middle classes of putting lives at risk in the developing world through their food choices. 'The problem is,' he said, 'the Western world's move toward organic farming - a lifestyle choice - and against agricultural technology and GM in particular, has been adopted across Africa --- with devastating consequences.'

It was proof of just how divisive the debate over the genetic modification of our crops has become. On the one side are the biotech companies and their supporters in the scientific community who believe GM has the potential to reduce the cost of food, increase yields and bring into cultivation land that might otherwise have remained barren, thus helping to feed the growing number of the world's hungry. On the other side are the environmentalists, who predict that a vicious toll will be paid in what these new, under-regulated foods will do to our bodies and to the planet.

On Friday the opponents of GM felt they had something to celebrate as news of the government reshuffle broke. Two weeks before, at a Labour conference fringe meeting, food and farming minister Jeff Rooker was laying into the anti-GM crowd for wallowing in 'ignorance', and being on a 'messianic mission' to kill the technology. 'It is like a religion, but there is no science base to it.' Now suddenly Rooker was out, not just from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - itself to be divided up - but from the entire government.

If his critics took Rooker's departure as an excuse to pop the corks on a few bottles of organic, bio-dynamic champagne, they would have been premature. Because the news that Hillary Benn was to head the new food and environment ministry, hived off from Defra, was proof that the Brown government's increasingly noisy pursuit of a pro-GM agenda was to continue. After all, Benn has hardly been a friend of those who have been calling for an end to all GM experiments. 'We need to see if they have a contribution to make,' he told another conference fringe meeting, 'and we won't know the answer about their environmental impacts unless we run controlled experiments. It's important we go with the science.'

To veteran Defra watchers, both Rooker's and Benn's comments looked like a rebuke to one of their own advisers.

Defra's chief science officer, Professor Bob Watson, is also director of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, a global study of current farming practices and their ability to alleviate world hunger. Its final report was published in April and its conclusions on GM were not positive. There was still too much uncertainty on 'benefits and harms' and a distinct 'lack of transparent communication'.

Again, for campaigners against GM the report was a major victory. The claims by biotech companies that GM could be a panacea for world hunger appeared to have been blown out of the water by the largest panel of international experts ever assembled. The sense that the debate was going their way was only added to over the summer, when Prince Charles accused the biotech companies of 'conducting a gigantic experiment with nature and the whole of humanity which had gone seriously wrong'.

But then came the fightback. Both the environment minister, Phil Woolas, and science minister, Ian Pearson, made public statements demanding a debate on the virtues of GM foods. For a long time, it had seemed the debate on GM in Europe was essentially over. No new product has been passed for cultivation by the EU for 10 years: suddenly, though, it was game on.

As the arguments raged, The Observer invited readers to have their say. We received hundreds of responses. There were a lot of predictable contributions from supporters of Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace, but there were also many from the academic community. Still, if anybody had expected the discussion to break down along equally predictable lines, with environmentalists on one side and scientists on the other, they were mistaken. The experts were manning the barricades on both sides.

As Benn must be all too aware, the debate over GM has become all encompassing. It is about politics and the law, the role of big business and the relationship between rich and poor. But it's also about the science, for in this field almost nobody can agree on anything. And in the middle is the consumer, desperately trying to make the right choices.

Dr Michael Antoniou was one of those scientists who contacted The Observer. As head of the Nuclear Biology Group at Guy's Hospital, and a one-time member of the government's advisory group on GM foods, he knows a lot about genetic modification. 'In our research into therapies for diseases such as multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis, we work with genetically modified organisms all the time.' It is because of that experience that he believes GM foods are potentially very dangerous.

The problem, he argues, is the unintended consequences of genetic modification. 'It's a highly mutagenic process,' he says. 'It can cause changes in the genome that are not expected.' So far, biotech companies such as Monsanto have brought to market only four crops - maize, soya, oil seed rape and cotton - with a limited set of modifications, like pest or herbicide resistance, so weeds can be eradicated without damaging the plants. 'These crops that have come along seem to be doing what they claimed they would be doing,' he says. 'The question is what else has been done to the structure of that plant? You might inadvertently generate toxic effects.'

The answer, surely, is that the regulatory regime is there to catch these things. No, Antoniou says, because it is not based on detailed genetic studies or even animal feeding tests. It is based on the doctrine of 'substantial equivalence', in which the original plant and its GM version are compared and, if found to be similar, passed as suitable for cultivation. It is, he argues, like comparing a conventional and nuclear weapon of the same yield and deciding they are substantially equivalent because of their explosive power.

The most obvious response is to point out that in America, where more than 90 per cent of all soya is now GM, people have been eating the stuff for years, with no adverse effects. 'That,' he responds, 'is only because nobody is looking at what the effects might be.' In short, he considers GM a risk because nobody knows what it might be doing. Later he sends me complex academic papers on unintended consequences in GM crops. They do appear to establish mutations along the genome, but, again, the researchers cannot say for sure what the consequences of those mutations might be.

Vivian Moses is sure he knows. A visiting professor of biotechnology at King's College London, and a member of CropGen, a pro-GM lobby group, he is experienced in arguing over the science. 'It's simply not true that there are mutations all over the genome,' he says. 'There was a paper published recently which looked at this. They found that the changes were specifically where the researchers intended them to be.'

In any case, Moses says, resistance to GM is not merely about the science, but about perceptions of the science. He points out that in the late Nineties, GM and non-GM tomato purées were stocked side by side in British supermarkets for two years, and sold in similar amounts. 'The consumer saw the product and they were not put off.' Then the newspapers started filling up with headlines about 'Frankenstein foods', and the market collapsed.

He rages against the culture of what he calls 'catastrophism and protest. There is a cultural problem that some people have. If they don't understand it they bash it.' It does seem that the anti-GM side can be prone to misunderstandings or exaggerations. For example, one briefing paper by the Soil Association referring to the same research papers on unintended consequences in the genome sent to me by Antoniou takes an unproved thesis - that unexpected mutations might cause toxic reactions - and turns it into fact. 'This,' it declares, with impressive assurance, 'explains why GMOs have been associated with allergic reactions.' When it doesn't explain anything of the sort.

Likewise, in the late 1980s an outbreak in the US of the auto-immune illness Eosinophilia-Myalgia syndrome was associated with a GM version of a protein food supplement called tryptophan. The episode resulted in deaths and injuries, and is held up as the definitive example of the damage GMOs can do, despite the fact that the scientific consensus insists the genetic modification had nothing to do with it. And yet anti-GM campaigners point to it as proof while also occasionally inflating the number of deaths from the generally accepted 37 to 'around 100'.

Most importantly, Moses says, what the oppositionists fail to recognise, indeed refuse to recognise, is that the process of genetic modification in our food crops is hardly unique. Here he is referring to the little discussed mutagenesis breeding programme that took place in the early years of the 20th century. 'Around 80 years ago researchers began to irradiate seeds and treat them with carcinogenic chemicals in the expectation they would cause mutations, some of which might be useful.' Many of these experiments produced seedlings which were useless, but a significant number were successful. 'About 70 per cent of our current crop plants have such an event in their history. Organic farmers use them by the bucket load and nobody bats an eyelid.'

Mutagenesis breeding was haphazard. By contrast, GM processes are, he claims, very precise. He also points out that conventional plant breeding is more than capable of producing a toxic plant, like a potato with a deadly cargo of glycoalkaoids. The difference is that conventionally created plants don't need to undergo any kind of testing regime, whereas GM foods do. But isn't that testing regimen - substantial equivalence - lacking in rigour? 'The industry provides the evidence that satisfies the regulators. But biotech companies are not responsible for chasing up every wacky idea thrown its way by the anti-GM lot.'

Moses can't hide his irritation with the anti-GM lobby; in his office at Oxford University's newly opened Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, the government's former chief scientist, Sir David King, comes across merely as frustrated. His whole argument, he says, is informed by his role as the EU adviser on African development. 'We're not starving in this country. We're not short of food. So when I suggest you should try GM tomatoes, the response is "why should I take the slightest risk?". It's a very different story in Africa.' He accepts that a lot of the anti-GM sentiment was caused by the bio-tech companies themselves. 'Monsanto marketed the products very vigorously in a way that had worked in the US, but here it caused great resistance and anti-American sentiment.' One of their innovations was to genetically modify a crop so it couldn't reproduce the next year, forcing farmers to restock with seed. 'And they called that the terminator gene. How stupid is that?'

It's certainly the case that Monsanto's practices - vigorously pursuing farmers suspected of illegally planting their seeds without paying royalties through the courts, creating seed 'technology packages' that force farms into a dependence on the company - has engendered a deep mistrust. Many do not like the notion of a multinational corporation owning plant life through patents, a move that only became possible through a change in US patent law in 1980. But that, King says, should not blind people to the benefits. Britain was leading the world in this technology for many years, but a lack of consumer interest has driven companies out of the biotech business. 'The GM campaigners have won a great victory, but the cost to the economy has been enormous.' .


Publish or Patent? Knowledge Dissemination in Agricultural Biotechnology

- An Michiels and Bonwoo Koo, IFPRI Discussion Paper No. 79, September 2008 download at

Plant transformation research has achieved outstanding progress in the development of transgenic crops over the past decades, and the research results have been spread through journal publications and patents. With the recent emergence of stronger intellectual property rights, investments in crop research and the landscape of plant transformation research have changed, along with the patterns of knowledge dissemination.

In this paper, we discuss the recent trends in plant transformation research by examining patent and journal publication data during the last decade. The data analysis shows that there have been significant shifts toward applied research by developing countries and toward patenting as a means of knowledge dissemination during the past few decades, reflecting the increasing role of the private sector in developing countries in crop improvement research.


Let Science, Not Fear, Be The Judge of GM Crops

-The Observer, October 5 2008 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/05/gmcrops.food

Gordon Brown's reshuffle has received a predictably mixed press, though one appointment can be rated as modestly encouraging: that of Hilary Benn as head of the government's food policy. Benn, it should be noted, is a supporter of crop gene manipulation, an intensely controversial technology. Scientists say it could save a hungry world. Opponents, claiming it will cause widespread environmental damage, have ensured that GM crop trials in Britain have been destroyed. Scientists view these actions with disgust. Mr Benn's support for their cause could prove invaluable.

The issue is further complicated because campaigners believe GM foods are being forced on the world by biotechnology multi-nationals seeking monopolies for their products. And they have a point. As The Observer reports today, companies such as Monsanto have attempted to set up GM seed technology packages that force farms into a dependence on their products. Such attempts are a matter of real concern. But we should note they are not confined to GM crops. Trying to tie customers to monopoly deals is common business practice. The technology is neutral.

In fact, genetic modification offers some promise for our overcrowded, overheated planet and for the nine billion people who will be living on it in 2050. Deserts are destined to spread, water will become scarce and disease hard to contain. GM crops could help alleviate these threats. Drought-resistant wheat as well as rice modified to generate high yields of vitamins will aid the fight against famine, while crops modified to make vaccines against infections such as hepatitis B will help doctors combat disease.

This point should not be understated. It may be fashionable to deride GM technology in the West, but for the rest of the world, it has the potential to save millions of lives. Earlier this summer, Leeds researchers, working with Ugandan colleagues in the development of pest-resistant potatoes for the Third World, found their small-scale field trial had been trashed by anti-GM campaigners. The perpetrators of that act are badly mistaken if they think destroying experiments designed to help impoverished people advances the green cause or strikes a blow against global corporations.

The argument over GM crops is changing. They may not be a panacea in combating famine, but their development has the potential to save lives. We cannot know the scale of that potential without allowing researchers the freedom to experiment with the technology. Our judgment of GM must be led by science, not irrational fear and vandalism.


Scare Stories Have Drowned Out the Good That GM Could Do

- Robin McKie, The Observer, October 5 2008 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/oct/05/gmcrops.food1

Acres of newsprint and hours of television have been devoted to the GM crop controversy - quite an achievement for a foodstuff that is grown in no significant quantities in this country, or for that matter in this continent. Britain, like the rest of Europe, was long ago frightened away from producing and eating GM food by a media campaign that has been based mainly on hearsay and only marginally on science.

And that is a shame. As senior scientists have pointed out, GM crops have considerable potential to help the planet, despite the claims of their opponents. Environment groups such as Greenpeace claim the stuff is dangerous. But not a single verifiable case of illness that has been triggered by GM produce has been established in the US, even though Americans have been eating genetically modified food since 1994 and 75 per cent of all processed foods in the US now contain a GM ingredient. Opponents claim there are long-term health risks but offer no concrete evidence.

By contrast, the potential to improve human health is considerable, thanks to the dramatic power of modern molecular biology. To create a GM crop, a gene for a particular protein is extracted from an animal or another plant and then inserted in the DNA of that crop, where it directs its new host into making that protein. A classic example is provided by a modified sweetcorn called Bt corn, in which an insect-killing gene, extracted from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, is added to the DNA of sweetcorn so that it makes its own insecticide. Similarly, rice has been modified to contain high amounts of Vitamin A by inserting genes from daffodils and bacteria.

And future benefits could be even greater. For example, scientists are developing GM bananas that would include a dose of hepatitis B vaccine. The potential here is vast. People in developing countries could be vaccinated against the disease - which now affects two billion people in developing countries - without needles or the need for cold storage of vaccines.

Other projects being carried out by scientists include plans to strengthen crop resistance to drought. In a world afflicted by climate change, which is already causing deserts to spread to once fertile regions, GM crops such as these could be a bulwark against major famines - if they are given the chance.


Promoting a Strong Seed Sector in Sub-Saharan Africa

-Nicholas Minot, IFPRI (via Meridian.org newsletter)

This policy brief from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) says that sub-Saharan Africa needs a cost-effective system of seed production and distribution, and coordinated effort between the public and private sectors is necessary to make this happen.

The public sector, it says, needs to invest more in plant breeding and the development of new varieties, particularly open-pollinated varieties of staple food crops. According to the policy brief, seed production and marketing are often more efficiently carried out by private seed companies, but they must be supported with an enabling policy environment.

Such an environment would include: 1) a clear legal framework for private seed companies; 2) access to public-sector germplasm; 3) the absence of subsidized state seed companies; 4) streamlined varietal release policies; 5) regional harmonization of seed regulations; 6) and limits on the distribution of free seed by non-governmental organizations in nonemergency situations. The brief also says that seed policy should help promote efficient informal seed systems, while controlling misleading sales practices. The policy brief can be viewed online at the link below.



Core Historical Literature of Agriculture


'The Core Historical Literature of Agriculture (CHLA) is a core electronic collection of agricultural texts published between the early nineteenth century and the middle to late twentieth century. Full-text materials cover agricultural economics, agricultural engineering, animal science, crops and their protection, food science,forestry, human nutrition, rural sociology, and soil science. Scholars have selected the titles in this collection for their historical importance. Their evaluations and 4,500 core titles are detailed in the seven volume series The Literature of the Agricultural Sciences, Wallace C. Olsen, series editor. '

United States history cannot fully be understood without studying its rural life and agricultural heritage. Agriculture fueled the social and economic engine which built our nation, which generated our state and local governments, which stimulated and regulated pioneering, farming, land tenure, and the trading of agricultural commodities. Much of what defines the national character of Americans, our cultural values and morés, is rooted in our agrarian past. The farm family was the basic social unit molding American life for nearly 200 years. Agriculture has transformed the American countryside and provided its rural strength. Due to the centrality of agriculture in the American experience, economic, social, and cultural historians, as well as those in science and technology, have been fascinated by the published record of agriculture and rural life, and must utilize it regularly.

The story of American agriculture is captured in a broad band of documentary resources ranging from the memoirs and transactions of early agriculture societies to newspapers and almanacs; family, community, and corporate archives; and state and county extension service publications. The evolution of farm and rural life and agricultural economy is chronicled in the agriculture periodical press and the numerous local, regional, and national farm journals that exhorted, informed, and shaped the opinions, values, and concerns of early farm families. Journals such as Country Life in America, Cappers' Farmer, and Farm and Family have much to tell historians about the daily activities, issues, and practices of the time.

As rural life changed, so did the content of the literature aimed at the farm family. These materials form a premier scholarly resource to document the experience of the individual farm family, the establishment and evolution of farm communities, the pressures affecting rural culture, and the shifting and evolution in rural culture in response to national and world events. Supplementing the published literature are the diaries, letters, photographs, and farm records that are critical resources to understand rural life, its role and place in American society.

During the 19th century, the farm unit shifted its orientation from the family and the immediate community to the market, and to the expanding urban-industrial society. For nearly 100 years, employment in the American agricultural and food system remained nearly constant at about 35 million while the population soared. With these changing demographics came shifts in attitudes about rural life, community and family values, and the management of the farm enterprise. These shifts had a profound effect on farm families, on rural communities, and on the economy of the nation.

The historical literature of agriculture chronicles the beginning of an era in which the pressures of population and the opportunities of urban and global markets resulted in an agricultural system which is arguably the most productive in the world, but which is also a major contributor to environmental degradation. The negative effects of modern agriculture were somewhat unanticipated, making the story of agriculture's transformation of major interest to cultural historians chronicling the history of the environmental and agricultural worker's rights movements, and the rise of the land conservation ethic.

The literature of agriculture is replete with information about sustainable agricultural methods, observations, production, and effects. Until the 1940s, farmers did not use pesticides and chemical fertilizers in quantity. The record of pre-World War II agriculture is almost entirely a literature of what we now call "alternative" agriculture. In land-grant university libraries across the country, 19th and early 20th century books and journals -- now seriously embrittled and deteriorating -- are in demand as we begin yet another agricultural transformation. This time the transformation is along ecological and environmental lines rather than economic and technological.

Current online holdings: Pages: 850,264 Books: 1,849 (1,910 Volumes) Journals: 6 (288 Volumes)

Browse at http://chla.library.cornell.edu/

(Thanks, Shane!)