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November 20, 2008


GM to Fight Food Crisis; Biased Science for Political Agenda; Bio-Revolution; Bringing Joy to Farmers; Redrawing Rules


* Why GM is Needed to Fight World Food Crisis
* GM Foods Safe: Agriculture Minister
* Watson's 'Political Science' Hits 'Brick Wall' on Biodiversity
* Bio-Revolution
* Indian Cotton Farmers Pip US Counterparts In Farm Income
* New Crop Technology Brings Joy to Bhatinda Farmers
* Agency Rushes to Redraw Plant Biotech Rules
* Monsanto to Bring Latest Cottonseed Technology to Pakistan
* Extra WTO Precautionary Principle: One European 'Fashion' Export the US Can Do Without


Why GM is Needed to Fight World Food Crisis

- Tony Burke, Federal Agriculture Minister; The Land (Australia) Nov. 20, 2008

There is something worse than having one GFC. That's having two. Amid the international response to the global financial crisis (GFC), many people have stopped talking about the other GFC: the global food crisis.

It is still with us and not hard to find, from food prices in supermarkets worldwide to hunger in the Pacific, Asia and Africa. There were food riots in Africa and South-East Asia this year, and the crisis was linked to the fall of the Haitian government. Unless its causes are dealt with, it will worsen in the years to come.

Those causes are not well understood. The view that it is simply because biofuels use food for fuel is wrong.

Biofuels policies may have made us reach the crisis more quickly but the long-term trends have shown that food demand has been catching up with supply over many years.

The reasons include the growing world population and lower average harvests affected by climate change. The good news story that much of the developing world are becoming wealthier has also brought new challenges.

As people become richer, they demand more meat. This causes farmers to shift from cropping to grazing and producing food for livestock and people.

As many developing nations modernise their economies, the agriculture sector tends to come last, meaning countries undergoing massive urban expansion still practise subsistence agriculture.

This is the world's challenge: to produce more food, while combating climate change, dealing with increasing water scarcity and coping with the financial crisis. This will be front-of-mind when the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) gathers this week in Rome.

As you would expect, none of the simple answers work. Reversing biofuels policies in some parts of the world is not sufficient to offset long-term pressures on food supply.

On its own, aid won't do the trick either. When aid is cash or food supplies, it can be counterproductive, causing the local market to crash and wipe out the livelihoods of local farmers. The crisis carries humanitarian responsibility and economic opportunity for food-exporting nations such as Australia. We need to respond in three ways: aid, technology transfer and increasing our productivity.

The Government has allocated over $100 million to improving global food security, including to the World Food Program's emergency appeal. Then you have the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, which fits the adage of teaching people to fish to feed them for a lifetime.

By sending agricultural experts to nations such as East Timor and Vietnam, Australia is helping the poorest nations to come closer to feeding their own populations.

But the crisis is not only felt in developing nations. We've been seeing the effect at our checkout counters for many months. According to the FAO Food Price Index, world food prices fell by 6pc in September, but were still 51pc higher than they were two years ago. This drives home the pressures that pensioners, carers and working families started facing well before the global financial crisis hit.

The hardest part of the response is to produce more food. Much of our nation remains in its longest and deepest drought, and farm costs such as chemical, fertiliser and fuel have soared. We need to do more to get our research and development from the lab to the farm, and find synergies between the pressures of climate change and increasing productivity.

Given the challenges the world faces, we cannot ignore the potential of genetically modified (GM) organisms. It has always been a sensitive issue and, as with all food technology, food-safety issues are paramount.

While food safety may be a reason to ultimately reject particular plants, it is not a reason to reject the science of genetic modification. When India switched to GM cotton, it increased productivity by 75pc in four years. It went from a net importer of cotton to the world's second-largest exporter.

None of us know if such gains will come from other crops, but ignoring the potential of genetic modification puts superstition ahead of science. It will be some time before the end of either GFC. But the decisions we take now, as a nation and as a planet, will affect the prosperity and livelihoods of all the world's citizens for decades to come.

Tony Burke is the federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.


GM Foods Safe: Agriculture Minister

- Sabra Lane, ABC TV (Australia), Nov. 20, 2008 http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2008/s2424612.htm

TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Agriculture Minister, Tony Burke says it's time the nation got over its superstition about genetically modified crops.

Mr Burke told a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization meeting in Rome overnight GM crops could provide part of the solution to the global food shortage and climate change.

The Federal Agriculture Minister is speaking here with AM's Sabra Lane.

TONY BURKE: The key principle needs to be one of food safety and food safety decisions need to be based on science, not superstition.

That is why my view is and the Government's view is that it will be part of the jigsaw - part of the jigsaw in dealing with climate change, part of the jigsaw in dealing with the global food crisis.

We can't pretend that there is some magic solution with genetically modified food that will solve every problem but with the challenges that we face, we need to open our minds and hearts and see what it can deliver.

Food safety issues are an issue no matter what sort of technology you are dealing with and GM is no different but the food safety question should be dealt with on a case by case example on their own merits.

At a time of world food shortage, it is very difficult to argue that we should turn our backs on answers that science can give us.

SABRA LANE: How do you convince people that these crops are safe to eat?

TONY BURKE: Well the same food safety checks that are done on any form of biotechnology whether it is GM or not.

I mean a simple example of the sorts of improvements that you can have here is given by India. When India switched to GM cotton, in four years they increased their yields by 75 per cent and went from being a net importer of cotton to being the second largest exporter in the world.

Now, we are not going to replicate these results on every occasion but it does give you a sense of a time now when there are so many people going hungry and we have serious long-term pressures on our food supply, it does give you a sense of some of the potential that GM might hold.

SABRA LANE: There are people though who believe that there still are safety questions. Can you guarantee that there will be no long term consequences to human health or consequences on the environment?

TONY BURKE: There are safety concerns and environmental concerns that need to be sorted out in every level of food production.

Those standards need to be applied to GM in the same way that they are applied to anything else and that gets us back to rigorous food safety standards that base health recommendations purely on the science.

And if we do that and a particular GM product doesn't come up to scratch, then it shouldn't be released.

TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Agriculture Minister Tony Burke.


Watson's 'Political Science' Hits 'Brick Wall' on Biodiversity

- Andrew Apel, GMOBelus, November 15, 2008 http://gmobelus.com/news.php?viewStory=279

Robert Watson surged to international prominence in 1977, when he took the helm of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). His tendency to favor politics over science led to his ouster from this global-warming body.

"Watson represents an obsolete perspective on global warming that was increasingly at odds with sound science, economics, and global politics", said James Taylor, editor of Environment & Climate News.

Watson then joined the International Assessment of Agricultural Science & Technology (IAASTD) project, where his tendency to favor politics over science led science and technology delegates to walk out of the project, and eventually to a report with the sort of bias only an anti-technology activist could love.

Now, Watson is vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) -- a new project for which there is little enthusiasm.

It may be that the world is tiring of biased science being used to support unrelated political agendas -- something Watson may not have invented, but may have raised to a high art.

As Agence France Presse reports, "[p]lans for a scientific panel on biodiversity, similar to a Nobel-winning group on climate change [the IPCC, from which Watson was booted], have been knocked back by representatives of 80 countries at UN-sponsored talks." The AFP's perspicacious reporter noted that "[t]he IPBES would have mirrored the functions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change".

According to this intrepid reporter, the IPBES panel "was intended to be an independent authority on species loss, bringing together experts who can guide governments on the issue, amid warnings about the accelerating rate of extinction and its implications for humans."

In other words, a panel similar to the IPCC, which seeks international constraints on energy, or to the IAASTD, which seeks limits on agricultural development. "Many delegates supported the need for (a platform)-- but others considered that it is too early to conclude whether there is a need for a new and independent body," the UNEP said in a statement.

Delegates, who included representatives from the United States, China, India and African and European nations, called for a study into the weaknesses and strengths of all existing mechanisms before embarking on a new panel.

The conference did not decide when and where the next round of meetings would be held. This may signal a weariness among nations regarding expensive, scientifically insupportable demands levied by activists who, themselves, seek authority far beyond their merits.



- Indira Nath, Nature 456, 40; Oct 30, 2008 http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v456/n1s/full/twas08.40a.html

Developing countries have joined the front lines of the biotechnology revolution in health and agriculture.

We are living through an unprecedented era of progress in biotechnology.

Consider what has already been achieved. Thanks to an extraordinary international effort, scientists have sequenced the genomes of humans, plants and animals. This has led to the discovery of DNA signatures for a growing number of human and plant diseases. There has also been considerable progress in identifying both drug-resistant microbes and 'transmission hot spots', which can serve as the epicentres of epidemics.

Now, consider what scientists might achieve in the future. Projects include new ways to bioengineer circuits with DNA, complete with mechanisms that allow cellular computing, programming and communication between cells. In the field of synthetic biology, researchers have built long stretches of DNA and synthesized viruses that link DNA fragments using methods akin to computer-based engineering. Toggle switches, oscillators, and pattern-forming and edge-detecting devices that are currently under design could lead to bio-computers that sense abnormalities in the body, including the emergence of cancer cells, which can then be made to self-destruct.

In developing nations, biotechnology has the potential to revolutionize food production and health care. In agriculture, for example, researchers are using DNA-based technologies to create pest-resistant, higher-yielding plants for both normal and environmentally stressed soils.

Biotechnologies are also a key to 'bio-fortification'. Vitamin A deficiency, which, if untreated, can lead to blindness, affects millions of people in over 100 countries, mostly in the developing world. Anaemia caused by iron deficiency is another common condition in the undernourished population.

To help combat these and other health problems, biotechnology is creating plants that are 'fortified' with vitamin A, iron, micronutrients, proteins and antioxidants. One of the best-known examples is rice enriched with vitamin A (golden rice), which was first developed in 2000. Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, the Philippines and Vietnam now fund research and development programmes to enrich local rice. The United Nations estimates that, by 2015, the world will need to increase food production by 50% if we are to avoid global food shortages. Biotechnology will be a critical tool in meeting this goal.

Yet, several hurdles stand in the way of progress, especially for developing countries. First among these are intellectual property rights (IPR). These are often legally restricted to individuals, companies and universities in the developed world, rendering access to critical technologies expensive and time consuming. A second hurdle is the opposition of interest groups concerned about biotechnology's impact on health and the environment.

Together, these hurdles can make the introduction of biotechnologies in the developing world problematic.

The example of golden rice is a case in point. Some 70 patents held by 30 companies and universities - all in developed countries - protect the technologies used in the production of golden rice. Following a major lobbying effort, IPR holders granted licenses to allow the royalty-free sharing of technology with people in need. However, many interest groups in the North and South remain opposed to genetically modified (GM) crops, which might pollinate non-GM crops. Such opposition is a recent phenomenon. By contrast, earlier commercialization of transgenic tomatoes, maize and soya bean faced no opposition.

Cross-pollination issues can be minimized with newer technologies. Furthermore, pollination occurs continually between wild and cultivated rice varieties without leading to ecological changes.

There is no doubt that biotechnologies (in common with all new technologies) come with risks as well as rewards. Thanks to many studies and assessments, we can be confident that GM plants are safe for human consumption. Yet, large segments of the public continue to harbour suspicions towards the use of biotechnology. Such perceptions cannot - and should not - be ignored.

Another worry, shared by both the scientific community and the larger society, involves the potential misuse of biotechnology by those seeking to create weapons capable of doing great harm. Biotechnology research functions under a rigorous international regulatory regime. No fewer than 15 international codes, designed to maintain public safety and environmental health, govern the regulation and trade of GM organisms.

So, what should developing countries do to ensure that they stay aboard the 'biotechnology train'? The ultimate goal should be to create an environment conducive to innovation. This requires training an adequate number of scientists and technologists, building proficient universities and research centres, providing ample funding, forging strong international links and opening up broad channels of communication.

To help ensure that developing countries gain the full benefits of biotechnology, governments should offer incentives to companies to produce the kinds of products that are most beneficial to their populations, such as vaccines against childhood diseases. Yet, it is crucial that in their efforts to promote innovation, governments achieve a proper balance between public good and private profit. In India, for example, Shantha Biotech has developed a yeast-based recombinant hepatitis B vaccine that has reduced the price from Rs400 (US$9) to Rs25 (US$0.60). India, Brazil and Cuba are all producing recombinant therapeutics and vaccines through collaborative arrangements between academia and private companies.

Biotechnology holds great promise for developing countries. Yet, this promise can only be fulfilled if these countries build the capacity needed to reap the benefits of this cutting-edge science and technology.
Indira Nath (TWAS Fellow 1995) is director of the LEPRA-Blue Peter Research Centre in Hyderabad, India.


Indian Cotton Farmers Pip US Counterparts In Farm Income

- The Hindu, Nov. 20, 2008

Indian cotton farmers have earned more income per hectare than their US counterparts, thanks to the adoption of genetically modified technology developed by companies like Monsanto, says a UK-based agri-economist.

"Farmers in developing countries like India are having better farm income benefits compared to the US, Australia and Argentina," agri-economist Graham Brookes told PTI.

After paying for GM technology, cotton farmers in India have earned an additional average income of 225 dollars (Rs 9,956) per hectare between 2002 and 2006 against 94 dollars per hectare in the US and 133 dollars per hectare in Argentina, he said.

However, the earnings of Indian cotton farmers are lower than that of Chinese farmers, whose income per hectare is about 294 dollars, Brookes, who is the director of PG Economics, which provides advisory and consultancy services on plant bio-technology and agricultural markets and policy in the UK, noted.

"India has made tremendous growth in GM cotton. Farmers have earned total 1,294 million dollars additional income since the launch of the GM cotton in 2002," he said.

GM cotton was developed and commercially launched in India by Mahyco-Monsanto and it is currently grown in over 75 per cent of the total cotton area.

"Looking at the speed of adoption in India, the average income benefits in the coming years would be more than two billion dollars," he said.

Quoting his study on GM crops, he said a larger share of income benefits have been earned by farmers in the developing countries like India.

"Cumulatively over the period 1996 to 2006, developing country farmers have acquired 49 per cent of total 34 billion dollars farm income benefit," he said.


New Crop Technology Brings Joy to Bhatinda Farmers

- The Times of India, Nov. 17, 2008

BHATINDA: The fields look like they're covered in snow. Except they're not. In Bhatinda, genetically modified cotton is king and farmers are reaping the benefits of a good crop. But all was not well till a few years ago. In fact, as recently as 2002, the crop was on a decline in the state of Punjab.

Back in 2002, Gagrana village's Mewa Singh was on the verge of commiting suicide. A Rs 7.5 lakh (1 lakh = 100,000) debt and declining yield left him with no other option. ''It became impossible to survive,'' he says. But that was then. Today Mewa Singh is a happy man. He cultivates Bt cotton on his five-acre plot and as a result of higher yields and earnings he has paid back his debt and has purchased a new tractor, motorcycle, and has sent his son to study in Punjab University.

Gurtej Singh Siddhu, also from Gagrana, proudly shows off his newly built pucca home, Siddhu House. "I have spent Rs 20 lakh on this house," says Siddhu, pleased with his decision of using Bollgard Bt cotton seeds. "Life has changed. My father was facing crop failure every year because cotton from the older seeds was afflicted by an insect known as spodoptera, making it useless," he adds. Siddhu's produce has increased to 12-14 quintal per acre, compared to only six quintal per acre with conventional seeds. "My income has risen by Rs 32,400 per acre, enabling my family to lead a better life," he explains.

The shining faces of farmers in Bhatinda are all thanks the new biotech technology that has renewed their cotton crop, locally called 'narma'.

Mahyco Monsanto Biotech was the firm that brought the Bollgard technology to India in 2002. MMB has sub-licensed the Bollgard II and Bollgard technologies to 23 seed companies, each of whom has introduced the Bollgard technology into their own germplasms. Bollgard cotton provides in-built protection for cotton against destructive American Bollworm Heliothis Armigera (locally called American gundi) infestations, and contains an insecticidal protein from a naturally occurring soil micro organism, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

Amidst the many challenges in agriculture, India's Bollgard Bt cotton success story stands out as one of hope and pride. From a net importer of cotton with production at 158 lakh bales in 2001, India is now the world's second largest producer and exporter of cotton, with production at 315 lakh bales.

Bollgard Bt cotton is India's first biotech crop technology approved for commercialization in 2002. This was followed by Bollgard II in mid-2006, by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, the Indian regulatory body for biotech crops. Approximately 4 million farmers cultivated Bollgard Bt cotton seeds on 76% of the total 225 lakh cotton acres in 2008, up from 72,000 acres in 2002.


Agency Rushes to Redraw Plant Biotech Rules

- Jeffrey L Fox, Nature Biotechnology, vol. 26(11), page 1206. November 2008

The rules for release and transport of genetically engineered (GE) plants are being overhauled for the first time since 1987. Early in October, officials at the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposed new regulations under the Plant Protection Act of 2000.

Agency officials say the proposed changes would "improve and clarify" procedures that lead APHIS to "approve" GE plants by granting them "nonregulated status." The current system allows companies or universities developing certain exempted classes of GE plants to notify USDA rather than apply for permits. Under the new rules, submission practices would be more uniform, though possibly more burdensome.

APHIS is receiving public comments until November 18. But critics complain that the proposals, which met little public fanfare, leave little time to respond. The debate about these proposals is "too important" to disenfranchise American farmers from it, says Bill Wenzel, director of the Farmer-to-Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering, based in Madison, Wisconsin, and a member of a broader national coalition of farm groups. Noting that many US farmers are busy "harvesting crops," he urged APHIS to extend the comment period to 120 days.

Provisions allowing crops that produce pharmaceuticals to be grown in fields are under fire, as they might mingle with foods that are sold to consumers. Meanwhile, other critics say that the proposals do not go far enough, as they fail to reduce regulatory burdens. Drew Kershen of the University of Oklahoma Law School in Norman, Oklahoma, calls on APHIS (and other federal agencies) to "abandon its unjustified and discriminatory bias against agricultural biotechnology" and to regulate such crops "in a manner no different than -- crops from any other breeding method."


Monsanto to Bring Latest Cottonseed Technology to Pakistan

- Daily Times (Pakistan), Nov 18. 2008 http://www.dailytimes.com.pk

Induction of BT Cotton is needed for raising textile exports.

ISLAMABAD: Monsanto has plans to bring in Pakistan the latest cottonseed technology (BG-II and RRF), currently only available in USA and Australia.

According to company's official, Monsanto's cotton traits have demonstrated better season long control of cotton bollworm compared to other Bt technologies. Independent research trials conducted in China and India have demonstrated significant higher cotton yield and better fiber quality compared to other Bt cotton varieties.

Tolerance to CLCV is critical for any germplasm to succeed in Pakistan. Most researchers working on CLCV tolerance are using Monsanto's cotton traits as background genetics. Monsanto has strong pipeline of cotton technologies to help cotton growers improve their yield and manage their operations more efficiently.

Cotton is an important cash crop for Pakistan. It accounts for 8.2 percent of the value added in the agriculture sector and about 2 percent to GDP, adds over $2.8 billion to the national economy.

In Pakistan, the challenge is to raise virtually static cotton production since the last several years. The projected targets for cotton yields are not being met due to continuing crop losses. Boll worm & Leaf Curl Virus CLCV have played havoc with crops in many areas of the country. All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA) and farmer groups are continuously requesting the authorities to bring latest agriculture technologies in cotton so that Pakistan can regain its lost position in the world as a leading cotton producer.

Biotechnology seems the likely answer to this problem. Today, 8.2 million farmers in 17 countries choose to plant biotech crops. The use of biotech crops has significantly reduced pesticide usage while increasing yields. It helps in reducing crop loss as the plant is less prone to disease like Bollgard and curl leaf. BT Cotton can protect against boll worms and may reduce the current losses by half. Other measures like herbicide sprays can further reduce the losses due to weeds. According to Cotton industry analysts, Bt technology along with RRF (herbicides) could reduce losses due to pests and weeds by 20 to 50 percent thereby making up for the 2 million bales deficit that the country currently faces.

Another factor to consider is that as the approval process of BT cotton has taken long, farmers have started importing / smuggling the BT seed. This led to use of smuggled seed in Punjab by almost 60 percent farmers. But as there was no stewardship and guidance to the farmers, this posed several serious problems. First, the pirated varieties are not developed for Pakistan's agronomic conditions and do not perform well, especially against mealy bugs and CLCV. Secondly, while farmers have no assurance that they are purchasing quality BT seeds, they nonetheless reduce insecticide spraying - - raising the risk of increased pest damage, particularly later in the season. Raw material from unapproved BT varieties results in reduced quality cotton which traders are reluctant to export. Majority of cotton farmers are using authentic Bollgard and Bollgard II cotton technologies in India, China, Australia and the US where other BT cotton technologies have been introduced and this clearly demonstrates the preference of growers based on benefits realised by them.

Now the government has signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) with Monsanto to initiate collaboration in biotechnology - an extremely favorable development for future commercialisation of transgenic technology in Pakistan. Monsanto cotton traits are currently approved in 13 countries around the world. Monsanto has already started trial production to assess the BT genes behavior in Pakistan's soil conditions and climate. This landmark LoI provides an opportunity to expand cotton production through the commercialisation of Bt technology in Pakistan.

The agreement outlines a strategy to extend cooperation in advancing transgenic technology in Pakistan's agricultural sector. This technology has given sound results in areas as diverse as India, Brazil, China and Australia. In India for example, Cotton yields have increased from approximately 14 million bales in 2002-3 to more than 32 million bales by this year. Monsanto continues to further advance this technology through its extensive Research and Development facilities.


The Extra WTO Precautionary Principle: One European 'Fashion' Export the United States Can Do Without

- Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, Vol. 17, Number 2, Spring 2008

Download at http://www.itssd.org/Kogan%2017[1].2.pdf

See also: http://lawlib.wlu.edu/CLJC/index.aspx?mainid=573&issuedate=2008-10-17&homepage=no