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November 5, 2008


Why the IAASTD Failed; Unjustified Ban of MON810; Cutting Heart Attack; World First Blue Rose; Silly Prince


* Why the IAASTD Failed
* EU Agency Says French GMO Maize Ban Unjustified
* GM Soya Bean Can Cut Heart Attack Risk
* World's First Blue Roses On Display In Japan
* Purple Tomato 'May Boost Health'
* Extra-Nutritious Bioengineered Foods Still Years Away
* Why Europe Should Rewrite The Rule Book
* 3-In-1 Rice Helps Prevent Vitamin A Deficiency
* Consumers' Taste for Organic is Tapering Off
* The Prince Has To Choose


Why the IAASTD Failed

- Robert Wager, Vancouver Island University, Canada http://web.viu.ca/wager

Agriculture is a man-made activity that has for millennia changed many forms of plants and animals to suit our needs. Today there is a strong lobby calling for a return to organic agriculture. This affluence-centered ideology can not effectively support the less fortunate or future pressures of a growing human population. It was the science and technology of the green revolution that helped feed the population as it rose from 3 billion to 6 billion.

With great promise the international community began a multiyear project designed to evaluate the role of agricultural science and technology with the goal to help reduce hunger, malnutrition and poverty. This International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) brought together people from many different walks of life. The first meeting was held in 2004 with 185 different groups represented. They included 45 governments, 86 NGO/civil societies, 29 co-sponsoring agencies (World Bank, UNESCO, UN-FAO, WHO etc) and representatives from international biotechnology companies.

The mission statement of the IAASTD promised to evaluate the relevance, quality and effectiveness of agricultural knowledge, science and technology (AKST) in reducing hunger, improving sustainability, improving nutrition, health and livelihood of the world rural populations.

The interim report of their findings was recently published [1]. In the four years since the inception of this project, the science of agriculture seems to have taken a backseat to ideology.

The IAASTD claims the report on AKST is: "an evidence-based guide for policy and decision-making." However the suggestions of 'perceived risks' and 'potential harm' are in many of the paragraphs dealing with biotechnology even though the evidence of risks and harm are lacking.

The International Council for Science is likely the world's largest collect of scientific opinion with most National Academies of Science and over 150 scientific organizations. In 2003 the ICSU published a very extensive review [2] of genetically modified (GM) crops and food.

The ICSU review looked at the following pertinent questions: Who needs GM Food? Are GM Foods Safe to eat? Will GMO's affect the Environment?

The opinion of this truly global scientific organization is very clear when it states: "-- there is no evidence of any ill effects from the consumption of foods containing genetically modified ingredients" "There are also benefits [eg. vitamin content of rice] to human health coming from GM foods" "Pest tolerant crops can be grown with lower levels of chemical pesticides, resulting in reduced chemical residues in food and less exposure to pesticides."

And with respect to the environment the ICSU report states: "there is no evidence of any deleterious environmental effects having occurred from the trait/species combinations currently available."

Nevertheless the IAASTD report states: "As the general public has become increasingly interested in the linkages between agricultural production systems and human health, the list of food related health concerns has continued to grow. It includes uncertainty with regard to the effects of GMO's on human health."

In fact there is very little uncertainly. The science is very clear. However, a massive international anti-GMO campaign by many NGO's has planted the seeds of doubt in the public. There is no evidence to support these 'perceived risks' and therefore they have no place in the "evidence-based" IAASTD report.

The IAASTD review also states: "Emerging evidence indicates that organic farmers are able to sustain their livelihoods--" This may be true in some places, but certainly not on a global scale with a world population of over six billion. Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug said it well when he said organic agriculture can only feed four billion people and he does not see two billion volunteers [to starve to death].

On average, organic agriculture produces only 70 percent of the yield of conventional agriculture. If we were to increase organic agriculture on a global scale as suggested in the IAASTD report we would have to put the remaining wilderness under the plow just to produce the same amount of food we do today. What would we do when the population reaches 7-8 billion? Clearly such a massive increase in organic agriculture at the expense of other forms of agricultural production would severely threaten global biodiversity and have profound negative impact on the environment world-wide.

Although North America has accepted GM crops and biotechnology the same can not be said for Europe. However it is not a difference in scientific opinion that blocks widespread adopt of biotechnology crops in Europe. In 2001 the European Commission released a report [3] on the safety of GM crops and food. Research over 15 years involving 81 projects and over 400 scientists concluded: "GM plants---have not shown any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding. Indeed, the use of more precise technology and greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them safer than conventional plants and food."

There has been a misinformation campaign against genetically modified crops and food by NGO's that spans the past 15 years. No amount of positive research mattered to their campaigns. Statements made to the British House of Lords by the head of a large international NGO made it clear that this NGO's opposition to genetically modified crops and food is permanent regardless of any future scientific safety evaluations. This type of blind ideology does not fit anywhere in a scientific assessment. However, this particular NGO is very active in the IAASTD.

Every year millions of children suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Lack of this key vitamin in the diet causes 500,000 cases of blindness a year and up to 6000 deaths a day in the developing world. Researchers created a type of genetically modified rice with elevated levels of beta carotene (vitamin A precursor). International attempts to freely distribute this rice to subsistence farmers in the developing world have been blocked with overly cautious regulations.

There is no doubt that some of the NGO participants of the IAASTD have been very active in helping to create and implement regulatory road blocks to the free distribution of Golden Rice which is in direct conflict of one of the stated outcomes of increased nutrition by the IAASTD.

The authors of the IAASTD report are absolutely correct when they say: "choices we make at this junction in history will determine how we protect our planet and secure our future."

Yet there is no mention of the UN-FAO statement: Biotechnology would provide powerful tools for the sustainable development of agriculture and food production [4].

"Success [including alleviating malnutrition, reducing hunger and improving health] would require increased public investment in AKST, the development of supporting policy regimes." This IAASTD statement is completely opposed by the continued expansion of overly cautious, onerous regulations.

One estimate has it costing 20 million dollars to gain commercial certification of a single GM crop. This is far in excess of the abilities of public-funded research. The end result of these costly regulations is that biotechnology crops which would help the poor are not developed. Drought tolerance, salt tolerance and insect resistance are just three examples of genetically modified crops that could help farmers in developing countries. But extremely high costs of regulatory compliance keep these beneficial crops from being developed by public-funded research.

There is public-funded research in agricultural biotechnology programs in over 70 countries. This global research community was very disappointed with the draft IAASTD report. After reading the report the Public Research and Regulations Initiative stated: " We believe that the chapter [biotechnology] is written from a perspective that is so fundamentally different from what we believe should have been the perspective of such an evaluation, that a submission of comments on the many technical omissions and errors would not be meaningful."[5]

The unbalanced nature of the IAASTD report becomes even clearer when it states: "some long standing problems such as mycotoxins continue to significantly add to the health burden, especially of infants". It is very difficult to reconcile the statements of desire to improve nutrition and health with the complete omission of any statements of peer-reviewed data that consistently showed insect resistant GM maize has much lower levels of mycotoxins than either conventional or organic maize.

The IAASTD claims to want to reduce pesticide use but then refuses to acknowledge the massive reductions in pesticide use afforded by growing insect resistant GM crops. Interestingly, nowhere in the report is there any mention of the widespread use of highly toxic copper compounds in organic agriculture. It is very clear modern synthetic fungicides are far less harmful to the environment than these copper compounds which persist for decades.

Over 8 million farmers in the developing world now grow GM crops and each years sees a 20 percent increase. This adoption rate indicates there are real benefits of biotechnology crops for these farmers.

Scientific evidence shows substantial benefits of growing biotechnology derived crops. Yet the IASSTD warns against increasing education and training of farmers in the use of GM crops. It is hard to understand this position in light of the overwhelming scientific data in support of genetically engineered crops.

One of the most striking examples favouring organic agriculture in the IAASTD report is the suggestion that organic certification is threatened by pollen flow from GM crops. This is pure rhetoric directly from the organic food industry. During a time of unprecedented growth of both GM and organic agriculture there has not been a single case of loss of certification of an organic farmer as a result of pollen flow from neighbouring GM crops. In fact the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements does not advocate any testing for GM content.

The executive summary of the IAASTD report repeatedly advocates increases in organic agriculture without similar endorsements for biotechnology. This seems very strange as in the body of the report it states an alternative pathway forward with less biotechnology would mean "humanity would likely be more vulnerable to climate and other shocks and to increased natural resource scarcity".

Most of the 6000 year history of agriculture is by definition organic. This type of poor yield agriculture is exactly why we have significant problems with hunger, malnutrition, soil degradation and poverty in much of the developing world. To suggest organic agriculture is the best way to improve this defies logic and demonstrates how the reported "science-based" assessment of the IAASTD has been completely over-ridden by ideological based green-washing. It is very clear why those who work in the fields of agriculture biotechnology are so disappointed by the non science-based IASSTD report.

[1] http://www.agassessment.org/index.cfm?Page=Plenary&ItemID=2713

[2] http://www.icsu.org/2_resourcecentre/INIT_GMOrep_1.php4

[3] http://ec.europa.eu/research/quality-of-life/gmo/index.html

[4] http://www.fao.org/biotech/stat.asp

[5] http://www.pubresreg.org/


EU Agency Says French GMO Maize Ban Unjustified

- Reuters, Nov 1, 2008

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said on October 31 that France's ban on the genetically modified (GM) maize variety MON 810 is unjustified, this article reports. MON 810 maize is the only GM crop variety that has been approved for commercial cultivation by the EU. The French government decided to ban the crop last year, invoking the EU safeguard clause, that allows individual EU member states to institute bans, provided that they have what is deemed to be sufficient evidence. The French government said that it had serious doubts about whether MON 810 was safe for the environment.

EFSA now states, however, that "No specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, was provided that would justify the invocation of a safeguard clause." Diplomats say that the European Commission will now consider the EFSA's opinion and will very likely order France to lift its ban, the article reports. France is the EU's biggest agricultural producer. Polls show that the vast majority of French people are opposed to GM crops, according to the article.


On 9 February 2008, France notified to the European Commission an Order suspending the cultivation of seed varieties derived from the genetically modified maize event MON810, as well as a safeguard measure invoked under Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC to provisionally prohibit the cultivation of the authorised maize MON810 on its territory. An amendment of the Order was further notified to the European Commission on 20 February 2008. In the meantime, on 13 February 2008, France notified to the European Commission a note entitled 'Emergency measure' under Article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003. In this respect, the European Commission received from France a written submission consisting of different supporting documents.

On 27 February 2008, the European Commission requested the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO Panel) of the European Food Safety Authority to assess the package of documents supporting and justifying the French safeguard clause and the duration of the invoked measure.

Having assessed the information package provided by France in support of its safeguard clause and having considered all relevant publications on the subject, the GMO Panel concludes that, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, the provided information package does not present new scientific evidence that would invalidate the previous risk assessments of maize MON810. Therefore, no specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, was provided that would justify the invocation of a safeguard clause under Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC and an emergency measure under Article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003.


Genetically Modified Soya Bean Can Cut Heart Attack Risk

- Piyush Diwan, Nov 5, 2008 http://www.topnews.in/genetically-modified-soya-bean-can-cut-heart-attack-risk-284033

Genetically Modified Soya Bean Can Cut Heart Attack RiskThe genetically modified crop of soya bean, which increases omega-3 level & prevent heart attacks has passed the first phase of testing in America. It can be used in spreads, yogurts, cereal bars and salad dressings.

Researchers at the University of South Dakota have found that the GM soya bean can increase levels of omega-3 acids, which are mainly found in salmon, trout and fresh tuna. It protects against cardiovascular diseases and diabetes and assist the growth of brain cells in the young. It will decrease the consumption of fish because we will get all this benefits from GM soya bean.

Monsanto, an American biotechnology company, has harvested 600 tones of the GM soya beans from trial plots in the U.S. The company expects the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the consumption of the same by 2011, following which the product will hit U.S. markets in 2012.If it approved by the European Food Safety Authority and the FSA's novel foods committee, the GM soya bean will make its way into European markets too.

Journal Lipids published a research indicated that oil from GM soya increased omega-3 in the participants' blood from an average of 4 % to 5 %. Prof Harris said, "This could lead to a 50 per cent drop in the risk of heart attacks and can raise omega3 levels in the blood by supplying this into the food".


World's First Blue Roses On Display In Japan

- Danielle Demetriou, Daily Telegraph, October 31, 2008, See the rose at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/3327043/Worlds-first-blue-roses-on-display-in-Japan.html

Tokyo, Japan - The world's first blue roses have been unveiled to the public public for the first time at an international flower fair in Japan, following nearly two decades of scientific research.
The blue-hued blooms are genetically modified and have been implanted with a gene that simulates the synthesis of blue pigment in pansies.

The flowers, which were on public display at the International Flower Expo Tokyo, will go on sale commercially in Japan in Autumn next year. "This is the first time that these blue roses have been put on display in public," said Megumi Mitsunaga, a spokeswoman for IFEX. "They are attracting lots of attention here because they are so unusual."

The creation of blue flowers - _historically viewed as a symbol of the impossible - was masterminded by a subsidiary of Suntory, the Japanese drinks company, which has invested three billion yen in the creation of blue roses, blue carnations and other blue flowers since 1990.

Its scientists successfully pioneered implanting into the flowers the gene that produces Delphinidin, the primary plant pigment that produces a blue hue but is not found naturally in roses.

The world's first genetically modified blue roses were unveiled in the laboratory four years ago, although further research was required to make them safe to grow in nature. Following the cultivation of test batches in the United States and America, the company will be ready to sell them from next year and aims to open up a global market for blue flowers worth an estimated 30 billion yen.

The blue roses were among 860 exhibits on display at the fifth annual IFEX, the largest flower and garden trade show which is expected to attract over 32,000 visitors over the weekend. Other highlights included glow-in-the-dark roses showcased in an array of pastel hues in dark boxes, having been genetically modified to light up in the dark.


Blue Roses Genetically Engineered


Blue roses have for years been the stuff of legend, with mystical folklore claiming they can give their owner eternal youth. Japanese scientists will certainly hope that is true after spending the best part of 20 years trying to genetically engineer one.

Scientists say they finally achieved it by taking the delphinidin gene from a petunia, which creates the blue colour, and inserting it into a mauve rose. Then again, having spent so long on it, the botanical loving boffins from Suntory could probably have developed one with pictures of Britney Spears on the petals.

The flower will go on sale next year and Suntory hopes the market for blue flowers will be worth more than $300 million --. but if you want one on the cheap may we suggest sticking a white rose in some blue food dye. The blue rose was launched at the International Flower Expo in Tokyo and others included glow-in-the-dark roses that have been genetically modified to light up in the dark.


Purple Tomato 'May Boost Health'


Scientists have developed purple tomatoes which they hope may be able to keep cancer at bay. The fruit are rich in an antioxidant pigment called anthocyanin which is thought to have anti-cancer properties.

A team from the John Innes Centre, Norwich, created the tomatoes by incorporating genes from the snapdragon flower, which is high in anthocyanin. The study, published in Nature Biotechnology, found mice who ate the tomatoes lived longer. This offers the potential to promote health through diet by reducing the impact of chronic disease

Anthocyanins, found in particularly high levels in berries such as blackberry, cranberry and chokeberry, have been shown to help significantly slow the growth of colon cancer cells. They are also thought to offer protection against cardiovascular disease and age-related degenerative diseases.

There is also evidence that the pigments have anti-inflammatory properties, help boost eyesight, and may help stave off obesity and diabetes. The John Innes team is investigating ways to increase the levels of health-promoting compounds in more commonly eaten fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes already contain high levels of beneficial antioxidant compounds, such as lycopene and flavonoids.

More benefit
Professor Cathie Martin, from the centre, said: "Most people do not eat five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, but they can get more benefit from those they do eat if common fruit and veg can be developed that are higher in bioactive compounds."

It is too early to say whether anthocyanins obtained through diet could help to reduce the risk of cancer. The John Innes team took two genes from snapdragon that induce the production of anthocyanins in snapdragon flowers, and turned them on in tomato fruit. Anthocyanins accumulated in tomatoes at higher levels than anything previously achieved in both the peel and flesh of the fruit, giving them an intense purple colour.

Tests on mice bred to be susceptible to cancer showed that animals whose diets were supplemented with the purple tomatoes had a significantly longer lifespan compared to those who received only normal red tomatoes. Professor Martin said: "This is one of the first examples of metabolic engineering that offers the potential to promote health through diet by reducing the impact of chronic disease.

"And certainly the first example of a GMO [genetically modified organism] with a trait that really offers a potential benefit for all consumers." She said the the next step would be test the tomatoes on human volunteers.

Dr Lara Bennett, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "It is exciting to see new techniques that could potentially make healthy foods even better for us. "But it is too early to say whether anthocyanins obtained through diet could help to reduce the risk of cancer. "We do know that eating a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in fibre, fruit and vegetables - and low in red and processed meat - is an important way to reduce your cancer risk."

Dr Paul Kroon, of the Food Research Institute in Norwich, said the research was an "important study". "The technology offers great scope for altering colours of fruits and vegetables, and their content of potentially health-protective compounds."

However, he said it would be wrong to assume the effects seen in mice would necessarily occur in humans. Anna Denny, a nutrition scientist for the British Nutrition Foundation, stressed there was no "magic bullet" against diseases such as cancer and heart disease. "Fruit and veg with higher levels of health-promoting compounds should not been seen as a replacement for eating a healthy balanced diet."


Extra-Nutritious Bioengineered Foods Still Years Away

- Marc Kaufman, Washington Post, Nov. 3, 2008 http://www.washingtonpost.com

For years, advocates of agricultural biotechnology have promised a future in which foods will be genetically engineered to give more nutrition and to prevent chronic diseases, in which crops will be modified to thrive in salty soil or hot or dry climates and in which consumers will benefit directly from science's ability to tweak other characteristics of plants.

So far, however, that has generally not happened, and the main beneficiaries of agricultural biotechnology remain farmers battling pests and weeds that threaten staple crops such as soybeans, corn and cotton, as well as the companies that develop and produce genetically modified seeds.

But last week, consumers were reminded of what might be available in the future. Researchers at the British-government-sponsored John Innes Center announced that they had developed a purple tomato that has high levels of beneficial anthocyanins -- antioxidants known to neutralize potentially harmful oxygen molecules, or free radicals, in the body and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. The genes for the purple tomato came from snapdragons.

The creators of the purple tomato, a team led by Cathie Martin, tested their fruit in cancer-susceptible mice and found that the animals on a diet of 10 percent powdered purple tomatoes in their pellets lived significantly longer than those eating powdered normal red tomatoes. Her findings were published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

This advance does not mean that extra-healthful purple tomatoes will be on the market anytime soon -- that would require much more testing in animals and humans and, perhaps a bigger hurdle, finding a company that wants to develop, market and sell them.

But Martin said the tomatoes are important because they are a promising example of a genetically modified food "that offers a potential benefit for all consumers." That's because the anthocyanins -- which are also found in many berries and in red cabbage -- would be delivered at high levels in a product that is widely and frequently consumed.

"The goal here is to improve diets by putting important compounds like anthocyanins in foods everyone eats," Martin said.

Researchers are genetically modifying many other foods to be more nutritious or to carry extra health benefits -- including staples such as rice, cassava and bananas, as well as vegetable oils engineered to have higher levels of healthful omega-3 fatty acids. Some are working on engineering ingredients in beer and white wine to boost levels of the antioxidant resveratrol, a heart-healthy compound found especially in red wine.

Unlike the explosion in biotechnology to protect crops from insects and weeds, these modified consumer products are in the relatively early stages of development, and there is seldom much money supporting their research. What's more, they often require the introduction of two or more new genes into the existing plant or, as in the case of the purple tomato, the insertion of a "transcription factor" that controls the activity of numerous genes. The health risks of this broader-brush genetic engineering have been far less studied than those that involve modifying or inserting a single gene.

Nonetheless, advocates of food biotechnology say the promise is there. Michael Wach, managing director for science and regulatory affairs at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said many researchers are experimenting with ways to engineer more healthful fats, more nutritionally dense products, and foods with increased levels of iron, zinc and Vitamin A.

It remains unclear whether any will pan out, but he said the traditional products of biotechnology that help farmers are becoming ever more important in poor nations as well as developed ones. About 282 million acres of genetically modified crops are planted in 23 nations.

"The issue of food availability is becoming increasingly important, and we know that genetically modified crops can help," he said. "With all the research now into developing crops that can resist drought or poor soil, we think the importance of biotechnology to agriculture can only grow."

Margaret Mellon, a food specialist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, disagrees. She generally views today's genetically modified crops as a problem rather than a solution. Although biotechnology could someday help increase the yields of staple crops and make them more resistant to climatic stress, she said, foods modified for nutritional benefits have fared poorly and can be produced better by conventional methods.

"The big biotech firms always used the promise of consumer-friendly, extra-healthy foods to fend off some of the criticism of their pesticide- and herbicide-control products, which often were not terribly popular with the public," she said. "It doesn't look exactly promising that we'll get any of that kind of benefit anytime soon, if ever. Clearly, genetically engineering fruits and vegetables for nutritional benefits has proven far more difficult than the industry expected."

And even if vegetables and fruits can be genetically modified to contain an abundance of a beneficial compound, she asked, do we really want them? Wouldn't it be better, she said, to develop richer soils -- using microorganisms and nutrients -- that could boost the nutritional value of all edible plants?

Martin, the creator of the purple tomato, said conventionally bred and grown fruits, vegetables and berries can certainly supply the nutrients and minerals that people need. But nutrition experts say that would require eating five servings a day, she said, and "eating one tomato instead certainly would be easier and more likely to happen."


Why Europe Should Rewrite The Rule Book

- Professor Ian Crute, Times (UK), Nov. 3, 2008 http://www.timesonline.co.uk

A genetically modified soya bean that contains health-giving fish oils is the sort of advance that might find favour with consumers and even convince sceptical Europeans that biotechnology has something going for it.

Before we can say for certain that it is beneficial, though, the results of this study will need to be scrutinised and independently replicated. The novel food products prepared from it will also, quite properly, be subject to a set of onerous regulatory hurdles before they appear on our supermarket shelves. The key issue, which has been lost in the furore over GM, is that it is the new characteristic of the crop, rather than the means by which this is produced, that should be placed under scrutiny with regard to impact on the environment or human wellbeing.

When the UK conducted enormous field experiments on herbicide-tolerant GM crops a few years ago, the focus was on the impact the modified crops had on weed control and biodiversity. It was never a test of GM technology per se, and every new crop must be assessed on its merits.

There are signs in Europe that we are beginning to realise that we can no longer take cheap food, or even food security, for granted, and that there may indeed be real potential benefits to be derived from the adoption of GM technology. So perhaps now is the time for us to catch up with the rest of the world where these crops are, with great benefit, being grown over substantial areas, and to reexamine critically the regulatory framework that we have erected. It sometimes seems to have been designed and operated to exclude and discourage just the sort of innovation we are going to need to address environmental and health issues.

The gains for humanity from scientific plant breeding have been immense - not least the ability to feed 6 billion people from about the same amount of land as was cultivated 50 years ago when there were half as many inhabitants on the planet.
The author is director of Rothamsted Research, a publicly funded agricultural science institute


3-In-1 Rice Helps Prevent Vitamin A Deficiency

- Paul M. Icamina, Manila Times, Nov. 3, 2008 http://www.manilatimes.net/

Manila, Philippines - Here comes Golden Rice, slated for field-testing this year and hopefully on your table soon after.

Golden Rice, one of the parents of the 3-in-1 rice, is genetically modified since it has 23 times more carotenoid (pro-Vitamin A). Two genes from other organisms were inserted to provide beta-carotene production, giving the rice grain its yellow color-and name.

The new variety is called the 3-in-1 rice, because, together with beta-carotene, it also contains genes resistant to tungro (a plant virus) and bacterial leaf blight infections. It is the first of its kind as it will contain three important traits never before found at the same time in a rice variety, according to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), which is developing the new variety.

The seven-year Golden Rice breeding project started in 2004 when PhilRice received genetically modified Golden Rice grains donated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Field-testing is required because Golden Rice is a japonica variety that thrives in temperate climates, but not in tropical settings.

If it proves suitable, researchers said it would help prevent Vitamin A deficiency, which affects four out of 10 Filipino children 6 months to 5 years old. According to the 2003 Food and Nutrition Research Council survey, two of every 10 pregnant and lactating Filipino mothers also suffer from Vitamin A deficiency.

The rice plant produces beta-carotene in its leaves and stems under normal conditions but not in its grains. A rice-based diet contributes to the high prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency, particularly among the poor who cannot afford to include vegetables, meat and other foods rich in Vitamin A in their meals on a daily basis.

The deficiency weakens the immune system and causes night blindness, corneal ulcerations and blindness.

Stored in the liver, Vitamin A is important in vision, bone growth, the immune system, reproduction lactation among women and formation and maintenance of healthy teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, the mucous membrane and skin.

A PhilRice study concluded that it would cost P149 million from research and development to commercialization. Benefits in improved health and increased rice production will outweigh the expenses, the agency reported.

According to Von Mark Cruz of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agricultural Biotech Applications (ISAAA), Filipinos will consume 33,000 tons of rice a day this year.

Golden Rice is expected to help boost rice production because of its resistance to rice tungro and bacterial leaf blight. Tungro rice disease is the most damaging viral disease of rice in the Philippines, particularly in the major rice-growing areas like Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Camarines Sur, Albay, Bohol and North Cotabato. There is no pesticide against the green leafhopper, which transmits the infection from diseased to healthy plants.

Bacterial leaf blight occurs in irrigated lowlands where farmers in places like Ilocos Norte, Cagayan, Ifugao, Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac and Bulacan plant susceptible varieties like IR64. Bacterial leaf blight, which is more prevalent and destructive during the wet season, causes poor and low grain quality as it increases the number of underdeveloped grains and reduces weight.

Consumption of Golden Rice would not lead to Vitamin A overdose because it contains only the Vitamin A precursor beta-carotene used by the body when it suffers from Vitamin A deficiency, proponents said. Beta-carotene is not known to be toxic. Even if the intake is high, any excess is excreted or stored in the body as beta-carotene, then converted to Vitamin A only when the body needs it.

There is no danger of Vitamin A toxicity in 3-in-1 rice as there is no Vitamin A in Golden Rice, only the nontoxic carotenoid precursors that enable the human body to make Vitamin A, researchers said. PhilRice is likely to be one of the first in Asia to conduct field trials of Golden Rice.

PhilRice and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are also conducting field trials of genetically modified rice that is resistant to bacterial blight-the only such research approved for field trials in the country. The so-called Bacterial Blight Rice is genetically designed by inserting into IR72 a gene from a wild rice variety that is resistant to the bacterial leaf blight.

According to Masipag (Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura), PhilRice is also conducting research into genetically modified rice that is resistant to diseases such as tungro and stem borers, although neither PhilRice nor the rice institute has applied for field-testing for these genetically modified rice.

The research addresses only one of many problems faced by rice farmers, the group added, an environmental organization against the cultivation and commercialization of genetically modified products. "Unfortunately, varieties such as IR72 that are being genetically modified to be resistant to bacterial blight are also susceptible to many other diseases and pests found in the Philippines such as sheath blight, golden snail, tungro virus, etc.," it said.

"The unresolved safety issue on GM [genetically modified] products poses a grave threat to the health of rice consumers," the group said in a briefing paper. "This is particularly unnerving for a country where 88.6 million people are dependent on rice as a staple," it said, adding 80 percent of the population spend 60 percent of their income on food and 40 percent of that amount is spent on buying rice.


Consumers' Taste for Organic is Tapering Off

- Andrew Martin, Seattle Times, Nov 2, 2008

Whole Foods Market, a showcase for the natural and organic industries, is struggling through the toughest stretch in its history. And the organic industry is starting to show signs that a decadelong sales boom may be ending.

Once upon a time, sales of organic and natural products were growing in double digits most years. Enthusiastic grocers and venture capitalists prowled the halls of trade shows looking for the next big thing. Grass-fed beef? Organic baby food? Gluten-free energy bars?

But now, shaky consumer spending is dampening the mood. It turns out that when times are tough, consumers may be less interested in what type of feed a cow ate before it was chopped up for dinner or whether carrots were grown without chemical fertilizers, particularly if those products cost twice as much as the conventional stuff.

Whole Foods Market, a showcase for the natural and organic industries, is struggling through the toughest stretch in its history. And the organic industry is starting to show signs that a decadelong sales boom may be ending.

The sales volume of organic products, which had been growing at 20 percent a year in recent years, slowed to a much lower growth rate in the past few months, according to Nielsen, a market-research firm. For the four weeks that ended Oct. 4, the volume of organic products sold rose just 4 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.

Read on at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2008340673_organic02.html


The Prince Has To Choose

- Dick Taverne The Guardian (UK), October 31, 2008 http://www.guardian.co.uk

' If Charles wants to lecture us on the plight of the world he must renounce his claim to the throne'

Prince Charles is a man of passionate convictions who expresses his views publicly, assiduously and provocatively. For instance, he believes he has a mission to save the world from GM crops, which he described in his recent Sir Albert Howard Memorial lecture as "a gigantic experiment with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong". He tells us that only organic crops are truly sustainable. He has also urged the government to promote alternative medicine and homeopathy in particular. In fact we must go Back to Nature, because he trusts Mother Earth to see to it "that plants and animals are left to protect themselves against disease". Science is clearly out of control, and he questions its contribution to modern medicine as well as agriculture.

Such views are held by many, if not generally in such extreme form. His comments about GM crops have no basis: authoritative bodies including every national academy of science in the world, the World Health Organisation, the European commission and our own Food Standards Agency have found no evidence they cause harm. His views also conflict with present government policy that encourages new GM trials. As for organic farming, its basic principle, which Charles strongly endorses, is that natural chemicals are good and synthetic ones bad: a principle every scientist would describe as a scientific howler. Charles also believes that homeopathy could save costs in the NHS if used to treat asthma. This would be true only because more people would die.

However, the merits of his views are not the issue. If Charles were a private citizen no one could question his freedom to say what he thinks. The snag is that he is the heir to the throne, yet seems unaware of the proper role of a constitutional monarch. The Queen sets an impeccable example. No one knows her views on GM crops or other controversial topics. She has given no hint what she thinks about any aspect of government policy. Nor do the constitutional monarchies in Europe stray into politics. They have all recognised, since the death of the doctrine of the divine right of kings, that hereditary monarchs have no right to interfere.

Not so Charles. He feels he has a duty, almost a higher calling, to speak out - or, as he put it, to "keep sticking my 60-year-old head above an increasingly dangerous parapet". Even more inexcusably, he does not restrict himself to speeches. He has used his position to damage the careers of those he disapproves of, or, on a more charitable interpretation, has been blind to the effects the strong expression of his views are bound to have.

Many years ago, he famously claimed that architects had done more damage to the City of London than the Luftwaffe and described the proposed extension of the National Gallery as "a carbuncle". Whatever the merits of his opinions about modern architecture, their expression by the heir to the throne severely damaged the practice of several architectural firms. Recently he jeopardised the career of Professor Edzard Ernst, the chair of complementary medicine at Exeter University, who has spent 15 years studying the effectiveness and safety of alternative treatments such as acupuncture and homeopathy. When Ernst criticised a report on alternative medicine commissioned by Charles, the prince's private secretary, as Ernst revealed in a recent letter to the British Medical Journal, complained to the university about an alleged breach of confidence. Ernst endured "a gruelling 13 months of inquiry" before he was cleared.

The prince faces a clear choice. If he feels he must speak out, because the dangers to the planet posed by the excesses of modern science are so great that it is his moral duty to save us from impending doom, he should renounce his claim to the throne. If he wants to succeed as a constitutional monarch, he must shut up. He cannot have it both ways. A democratic country cannot tolerate a monarch who meddles in political matters and whose views only command notice not because of expertise, but because of a position that he owes solely to the accident of birth.

Lord Taverne is a Liberal Democrat peer and author of The March of Unreason - Science, Democracy and the New Fundamentalism