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Date:

January 22, 2009

Subject:

Europe Approves More GM; Why Global Warming Portends A Food Crisis; Top Science Mind Backs GM; World's Greatest Techno Challenge

 


* Europe Approves More Genetically Modified Corn
* Why Global Warming Portends A Food Crisis
* Heat May Spark World Food Crisis
* EU Ethics Group Recommends Adoption of 'Modern' Technologies
* How have opinions about GMOs changed over time? The situation in the European Union and the USA
* Australia: Top Science Mind Backs GM Trials
* Consumers in Asia Ready for Benefits of Biotechnology Derived Foods
* Bt Brinjal: Coming Soon in India?
* World's Greatest Techno Challenge
* UK's Government Scientific Adviser: GM May Help Feed Growing Population
* US Consumer Views of the Benefits, Costs and Risks of Genetically Engineered Crop
* Danforth Center's Discovery May Lead to Increased Rice Crop Yields
* Togo Approves Biosafety Law
* Is Genetic Engineering A Good Thing or A Bad Thing?
* USDA Reopens Public Comment Period On Proposed Rule for Biotechnology Regulations

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EU OKs More Genetically Modified Corn

- Bridget Macdonald, Medill Reports, Jan 22, 2009 http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=112475

The European Union Commission recommended Wednesday that farmers be allowed to plant two new varieties of genetically modified corn, an endorsement that if approved, could ease restrictions against U.S. corn and corn traits.

The EU Commission’s recommendation breaks ground for use of Bt-11, developed by Syngenta AG, and TC-1507, developed by a joint venture between Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of DuPont Co., and Mycogen Seeds, a unit of Dow Chemical Co. The EU has not allowed the cultivation of any new genetically modified crops since it approved a strain of corn developed by Monsanto Co. in 1998.

Genetically modified corn accounted for 80 percent of all the corn planted in both the U.S. and in the state of Illinois in 2008, up from 73 and 74 percent respectively in 2007, according to Mark Schleusener, a statistician for the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

The nod from Europe is a step in the right direction, according to Mark Lambert of the Illinois Corn Growers Association. Although there is government support for genetically modified crops in the U.S., “[the EU] has been using biotech as a false barrier to trade,” he said. Approval from the EU Commission will open the doors for American corn, which Lambert said is essential to meet global food demand. The EU accepts some corn from the United States, but only for use as animal feed, not for human consumption. Any processed food containing genetically modified corn must be clearly marked.

"If something is labeled GMO, it’s a death sentence,” said Dr. Marty Sachs, a research geneticist at the Maize Genetic Stock Center. For the EU, “the issue is mostly protectionist rather than scientific or safety. [The EU] would like to keep our technology and companies from infringing upon theirs,” he said.

Sachs theorized that the E U Commission has “erred on the side of caution” in the wake of food scares, such as mad cow disease, but said there is nothing dangerous about genetically modified corn.

Geneticists developed Bt strains of corn using protein from a soil-born bacterium that occurs throughout the world, Sachs said. The protein has insecticidal properties. “When you have a caterpillar munching on the leaves, they ingest it and it kills them,” he said, adding that Bt’s toxicity is specific to certain pest insects and is innocuous when consumed by other animals.

"Organic farmers use Bt as a spray on their crops,” Sachs said. “It enables farmers to grow corn without using harsher insecticides or chemicals.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service oversees the approval of genetically modified crops in the United States using tests that Sachs called “reasonable” compared to the EU’s strict standards. U.S. breeders must demonstrate that their crops are as safe as a conventional equivalent through a process he said takes only a couple of years.

Despite the apparent backing of the EU Commission, Lambert said suspicion of genetically modified crops is embedded in European culture and will be hard to overcome. But he said biotechnology has done a lot for the environment by significantly reducing the tonnage of pesticides used in agriculture, a factor that might help win over the “green” mentality that has become prevalent abroad.

Illinois, which vies with neighboring Iowa for the No. 1 ranking in U.S. corn production according to the USDA, would reap the benefits of a more lenient agricultural policy abroad. “If they have actually accepted that farmers can grow these crops in Europe, it will prevent them from using that standard to bar importing products with same traits,” Sachs said.

From a global perspective, the EU Commission’s decision is good news for farmers around the world, who Lambert said have been at a serious disadvantage.

"A lot of countries don’t have the agencies and watchdog groups we do to ensure proper testing is done. In lieu of having expertise, they look to the U.S. or the EU,” he said.

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Why Global Warming Portends A Food Crisis

- Bryan Walsh, Time, Jan 13, 2009

It can be difficult in the middle of winter — especially if you live in the frigid Northeastern United States, like I do — to remain convinced that global warming will be such a bad thing. Beyond the fact that people prefer the warmth to the cold, there's a reason the world's population is clustered in the tropics and sub-tropics: warmer climates usually mean longer and richer growing seasons. So it's easy to imagine that on a warmer globe, the damage inflicted by more frequent and severe heat waves might be balanced by the agricultural benefits of warmer temperatures.

A comforting thought, except for one thing: it's not true. A study published in the Jan. 9 issue of Science shows that far from compensating for the other damages associated with climate change (heavier and more frequent storms, increasing desertification, sea level rise), hotter temperatures will seriously diminish the world's ability to feed itself. David Battisti, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, and Rosamond Naylor, director of the Program for Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University, analyzed data from 23 different climate models and found a more than 90% chance that by the end of the century, average growing season temperatures would be hotter than the most extreme levels recorded in the past. (See the top 10 green stories of 2008.)

With these frightening predictions in mind, we need to try to heat-proof our agriculture. That can be accomplished by using crops that have proven resistant to extreme heat — like sorghum or millet — to breed hybrid crop varieties that are more capable of withstanding higher temperatures. We'll need to drop any squeamishness about consuming genetically modified crops — unless we can tap the power of genetics, we'll never feed ourselves in a warmer world. But we'll need to act quickly — it can take years to breed more heat-resistant species, and investment in agricultural research has shriveled in recent years.

We also need to focus on improving the agricultural productivity of those parts of the world that have been left behind by the Green Revolution — such as Africa, where average crop yields per acre remain well below those in Asia or the West. One simple way is to increase the amount of fertilizer available to African farmers. Sanginga notes that about 440 lbs. (200 kg) of nitrogen fertilizer is generally needed to grow five tons (5,000 kg) of maize, but the average African farmer can afford only 8 lbs. of fertilizer. We can also work on safeguarding the degraded soils of Africa, where almost 55% of the land is unsuitable for any kind of cultivated agriculture. Help is on the way: the African Soil Information Service is launching a real-time, digital map of sub-Saharan Africa's soils, which should allow farmers and policymakers to make better use of the continent's agricultural resources. "Farmers need to know when to invest, and when to hold back," says Sanginga, who is involved with the mapping project.

There's a limit, however, to our ability to adapt to climate change — we still need to reduce carbon emissions, sharply and soon. If we fail, a warmer future won't just be uncomfortable, it will be downright frightening. "We need to wake up and take care of this," says Naylor. "We won't have enough food to feed the world today, let alone tomorrow."

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Heat May Spark World Food Crisis

- James Morgan BBC News, Jan 8, 2009

Half the world's population could face a climate-induced food crisis by 2100, a new report by US scientists warns. Rapid warming is likely to reduce crop yields in the tropics and subtropics, according to Prof David Battisti of the University of Washington, Seattle.

The most extreme summers of the last century will become the norm, he calculates, using 23 climate models. We must urgently create crops tolerant to heat and drought if we are to adapt in time, he writes in Science journal.

"The stresses on global food production from temperature alone are going to be huge," said Mr Battisti, a professor of atmospheric sciences. "And that doesn't take into account water supplies stressed by the higher temperatures." He collaborated with Professor Rosamond Naylor, director of Stanford University's Program on Food Security and the Environment, to examine the impact of climate change on the world's food security.
Harsh reality
As the summers get hotter, said Dr Hawtin: "We can't just move all our crops north (or south) because a lot of crops are photosensitive. Flowering is triggered by day length - so you would run into all sorts of problems if you tried that. "And even if Russia and Canada turn out to be the world's bread baskets, the cost of transporting the food to Africa will be too much. People in these areas can't afford food now."

Researchers at CIAT are part of the global Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) network, aiming to create new, improved crop varieties able to survive the extreme growing seasons predicted throughout the coming century.

Approaches range from conventional crop breeding to genetic modification. A number of other public research institutions and commercial companies are also working on drought- and heat-tolerant varieties. Agrichemical giant Monsanto said this week it had made a "significant step" in creating a drought-tolerant maize which could be available as early as 2010.

The genetically modified (GM) corn, which Monsanto claims will "reset the bar" in farming productivity, has moved to the final stage of development and could reach commercial usage within two years, the company said. However, the claims were dismissed as "hype and misinformation", by Bill Freese, a science analyst at the Centre for Food Safety in Washington DC.

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EU Ethics Group Recommends Adoption of 'Modern' Technologies

- Pro Farmer Editors, Jan. 21, 2009

The European Group on Ethics (EGE) today met with Mariann Fischer Boel, the commissioner responsible for Ag and Rural Development, to present recommendations which include the adoption of "modern developments" in agriculture technologies. Among them, the group says the EU should revise their policies on genetically modified crops.

"In this opinion the EGE shows its awareness for the need for promoting innovation in agriculture in order to be able to feed the growing world population. It adds that technologies alone cannot provide final solutions to the challenges modern agriculture is facing in the EU and worldwide," states the EGE.

========

How have opinions about GMOs changed over time? The situation in the European Union and the USA

- S.Bonny, CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources, 2008, 3, No. 093, 17 pp. December 2008

This text examines changes in opinions on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) over the past ten years in the EU and the USA. Divergence in opinion on this topic makes it difficult to define common policies and has led to conflicts. The results of diverse surveys and polls taken repeatedly over several years, for example the Eurobarometer polls in the EU, have been used to carry out a meta-analysis of opinions on GMOs. First of all, the data used as well as questions of method and the numerous difficulties arising from such an approach are presented. In the second part, the points of view in the USA and the EU are compared for those years when identical questions were asked on both sides of the Atlantic, demonstrating the differences associated with location. Then, changes in opinions on GMOs over time are analysed, focusing in turn on the USA and then the EU countries.

To conclude, we examine whether there is a certain convergence or a widening gap over time between views in the USA and the EU. As regards biotechnology, there is a slight convergence of views over the last few years, Americans having become a little less optimistic and Europeans relatively more optimistic. However, in Europe, the level of opposition to GMOs remains very high and is even growing in some countries.

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Australia: Top Science Mind Backs GM Trials

- Michael Hopkin, The West Australian (Perth), Jan 22, 2009

WA's Chief Scientist has supported a decision to proceed with trials of genetically modified crops, saying the issue had been considered carefully and agriculture would become more efficient. Lyn Beazley, who was formally returned to the role yesterday after serving as scientific adviser to the Carpenter government, said there was very strong science behind GM crops.

Professor Beazley said the plan to proceed with trials was "a political and social decision" rather than just scientific, but had been considered carefully. Twenty trial canola sites were approved last month by Agriculture Minister Terry Redman. The approval has paved the way for planting of 1000ha of GM canola in the Wheatbelt.

The GM canola has been engineered to tolerate weedkiller, potentially raising yields by helping farmers manage weeds better, according to licence-holder Monsanto. Anti-GM campaigners argued the trials would harm WA's reputation as a significant grower of non-GM produce, potentially denting export markets. The trials will see buffer zones to minimise cross-contamination, though size has not been determined.

Professor Beazley said one of the aims for WA science was to help agriculture become more efficient. "The priority is making sure science works hard in these tough economic times," she said. "We need agriculture to really work for us. "I think you always have to be very aware of the economic implications of anything you do in this area. "Clearly the science is moving very quickly and it's important to maintain safeguards, but there are opportunities."

Science and Innovation Minister Troy Buswell acknowledged there was opposition to GM crops. However Mr Buswell said scientific trials were a vital step in evaluating the crops.

He condemned the prospect of some activist groups reportedly planning to sabotage the crop sites, describing such action as "incredibly foolhardy". "I would like to think people will voice disapproval through measured and responsible channels rather than engaging in what is essentially criminal activity," he said.

==============

Consumers in Asia Ready for Benefits of Biotechnology Derived Foods

- Economic Times (India), Jan 16, 2009

NEW DELHI: Consumers in Asia, especially India, China, Philippines are ready to accept the benefits of biotechnology derived foods, according to a consumer survey by the Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC). The Asia region resource centre on nutrition, health and food safey has concluded that biotech foods will likely become an increasing and well accepted feature of the Asian diet in the light of the region's grwoing demand for high volumes of food.

Currently, the only genetically modified (GM or biotech) crop grown commercially in India is Bt Cotton but the government's policy leans towards bigger use of biotech food crops in the near future. Field and other levels of trials are already on vis a vis a range of biotech crops including Bt brinjal, okra etc.

In 2008, the government simplified, for biotech companies, the currently multi-level and complex trials made mandatory thus far before a biotech crop can come to field trials. Officially, though, the sceintific establishment has plumped for hybrids over biotech in food crops in the last few decades.

That notwithstanding, the AFIC survey "Consumer Perception on Acceptance of biotech Food in Asia", conducted by Nielsen across five Asian countries inlcuding Idnia, Japan, China, Philippines and S Korea, has found that in India, a significant 95% of consumers support plant biotechnology related to sustainable food production; 84% of Indians are ready to purchase biotech food such as tastier tomato, cheaper food staples adn foods/cooking oil with a healthier fat profile: more confident with food safety levels in the country, vis a vis other Asian countries surveyed.

The survey also contends that 70% of Indians strongly believe that food biotechnology will bring benefits in the next few years whiel 68% are sastified with the information provided on food labels. 70% of consumes surveyed, it said, had a neutral or favourable impression of biotech use in food production.

The AFIC survey has also maintained that that Asian consumers, unlike EU and US consumers, ranked expiry date as the "most important" information lookoed for while reading food labelsand that they did not perceive the presence of biotech ingredients as an additional labelling item.

"Food biotechnology is not a priority food safety concern among consumers. The important concerns are pesticide residues, food poisoning, food from unknown source and improper handling of food," the AFIC contended in a statement.

The survey itself maintains " Asian consumers rated reducing the amount of pesticides needed to produce food, followed by increasing the production of food staples in the world, thereby reducing world hunger, as the most important crop production factors related to sustainable food production."

According to Dr George Fuller, ED of the AFIC " It is encouraging to note that 84% of Indians are ready to purchase biotech food to experience its benefits and are the most confident with the food safety levels in the country, vis a vis Asian counterparts. This is good news for India, as the government considers crop biotechnology as the strategic element to increase productivity of food. "

In addition to the findings from India, the survey findings from China contends that while 94% of Chinese consumers support plant biotechnology related to sustainable food production.

The level stands at 92% in Philippines, 71% in S Korea and a much lower 67% in Japan. 82% of the Chinese consumers surveyed preferred nutritionally enhanced soy products, while 98% of those surveyed in the Philippines preferred rice and biotech cooking oil with reduced saturated and transfats.

Korean consumers surveyed favoured cooking oil and foods with a healthier oil profile while in Japan, freshness and taste were the most preferred qualities looked for in food.

The survey said that Philippines and Chinese consumers surveyed were also confident with the safety levels in their country. Ironically, biotech experts worldwide have maintained that safety in biotech foods is the key focus in this, the second decade of its existence worldwide.

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Bt Brinjal: Coming Soon in India?

- CropBiotech Net, http://www.isaaa.org/kc

Bt brinjal (Eggplant) is likely to be the first biotech food crop to be approved and adopted in India in the near term. Bt brinjal has been under development by Mahyco in collaboration with public sector institutions in India for the last 8 years. It has undergone a rigorous science-based regulatory approval process in India and is currently at an advanced stage of consideration for deregulation by the Indian regulatory authorities which approved the experimental seed production of Bt brinjal hybrids by Mahyco in 2008-2009. Studies on food and feed safety, including toxicity and allergenicity tests, have been conducted on rats, rabbits, fish, chickens, goats and cows; these studies have confirmed that Bt brinjal is as safe as its non- Bt counterpart. Similarly, environmental impact assessments to study germination, pollen flow, invasiveness, aggressiveness and weediness, and effect on non-target organisms were completed, and it was confirmed that Bt brinjal behaves in a similar way to its non-Bt counterpart.

Agronomic studies under multi-location research trials (MLRTs) and large-scale field trials (LSTs) confirmed that insecticide requirement for Bt brinjal hybrids was on average 80% less than for the non-Bt counterpart for the control of FSB; this translated into a 42% reduction in total insecticides used for control of all insect-pests in Bt brinjal versus the control. As a result of the effective control of FSB, Bt brinjal's average marketable yield increased by 100% over its non-Bt counterpart hybrids, 116% over popular conventional hybrids and 166% over popular open- pollinated varieties (OPVs) of brinjal.

Thus, to-date the studies submitted to the regulatory authorities confirm that Bt brinjal offers the opportunity to simultaneously provide effective control of the most important pest of brinjal, FSB, decrease insecticides for this important insect-pest by 80%, and more than double the yield over conventional hybrids and open-pollinated varieties, thereby providing significant advantages for farmers and consumers alike. At the national level it can thus contribute to food safety, security and sustainability.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications' (ISAAA) discusses this crop in the latest Brief 38 on "The Development and Regulation of Bt Brinjal in India (Eggplant/Aubergine)". Brief 38 is a comprehensive review of all aspects of the cultivation in India of the important vegetable brinjal, also known as eggplant or aubergine. The Brief summarizes the development, status and content of the extensive regulatory dossier in India for biotech Bt brinjal, which confers resistance to the most important insect-pest of brinjal, fruit and shoot borer (FSB).

For more information or a copy of Brinjal Brief 38-2009 contact ISAAA South Asia Office at b.choudhary@cgiar.org or k.gaur@cgiar.org. An online version is available at http://www.isaaa.org and http://www.isaaa.org/kc

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World's Greatest Techno Challenge

- The Press Association, Jan 21, 2009
http://www.rsc.org/ScienceAndTechnology/Policy/Documents/thevitalingredient.asp

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), both of the U.K., have prepared a report saying that the world is heading for a food crisis caused by climate change and competition for land use. In the long term, only technology can guarantee global food sustainability, according to the report. The title of the report is "The Vital Ingredient - Chemical Science and Engineering for Sustainable Food." The report calls for the development of more genetically modified (GM) pest and drought resistant crops and nutritionally enhanced crops. GM regulations, it says, must be "based on an evaluation of the risk, using sound evidence, and not on a socio-political fear of new technology."

The report also recommends a stronger focus on chemical engineering for the improvement of water supplies, and the development of ways to generate energy from livestock waste. According to the report, estimates are that by 2030 global cereal production must increase by 30 percent and meat production by 80 percent to meet the demands of a world population exceeding eight billion. And according to UN research as many as 60 countries are likely to suffer from water shortages by 2050, the report says. The report has been launched at the U.K. House of Commons by U.K. Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Hilary Benn. [According to the RSC, over 50 organizations were consulted in the preparation of the report, spanning experts from academia, industry, government departments, and food industry associations.] The report is available online at the link below.

<http://www.rsc.org/ScienceAndTechnology/Policy/Documents/thevitalingredient.asp>http://www.rsc.org/ScienceAndTechnology/Policy/Documents/thevitalingredient.asp

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UK's Government Scientific Adviser: GM May Help Feed Growing Population

- James Murray, BusinessGreen, Jan 22, 2009 http://www.businessgreen.com/

Bob Watson to argue research is needed to determine whether GM crops can help feed growing population in world affected by climate change

One of the government's chief scientific advisers will wade into the debate on genetically modified (GM) foods later today, by arguing that they could make a valuable contribution to feeding the growing global population as the climate continues to change.

Speaking as part of a debate on the role of GM to mark the opening of the Science Museum's new Future Foods exhibition, Bob Watson, chief scientific adviser at Defra, will make the case for further scientific trials to gauge the risks and benefits GM crops could deliver.

"People are asking how we will be able to feed the world's growing population during a time of dangerous climate change," he will say. "While GM food is clearly not the whole answer, it may contribute through improved crop traits such as temperature, drought, pest and salinity tolerance. Hence additional scientific studies will allow us to assess the risks and benefits."

The comments will be roundly condemned by many green groups which have long opposed so-called "frankenfoods" and in some cases even taken direct action to disrupt scientific trials for GM crops.

However, advocates of GM are increasingly arguing that modified crops with improved yields may represent one of the most effective means of feeding a growing population, avoiding the need to resort to yet more intensive agricultural techniques and further deforestation.

Rodomiro Ortiz, director of resources mobilisation at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre is also expected to make the case for further research into GM crops at today's debate, arguing that "genetic engineering has the potential to address some of the most challenging constraints faced by farmers in developing-world agriculture."

He will add that "transgenics also provides means for transferring traits that may enhance crop adaptation to global warming and water scarcity due to climate change", and argue that "the poor of the developing world should benefit from the deployment of desirable transgenic crops that follows scientifically sound biosafety and food safety standards and appropriate intellectual property management and stewardship."

Friends of the Earth rejected Watson's calls for more research into GM, insisting that previous trials had failed to deliver encouraging results.

"GM crops have failed to deliver - they do not yield more than conventional crops and there is not a single GM drought or salt tolerant crop available commercially," said a spokeswoman for the company. "Instead of trying to convince the public to support GM crops and continuing to fund this unpopular and ineffective technology, the Government must focus on the real farming solutions - combining science and technology with communities' traditional knowledge.

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US Consumer Views of the Benefits, Costs and Risks of Genetically Engineered Crop

via Jack Cooper, jlc@fien.com

Biotechnology has the potential to substantially increase agricultural productivity, influence markets, and in some cases invent new uses for traditional crops. However, concerns accompany these potential benefits. A group of scientists from Virginia examined the benefits, costs, and risks associated with agricultural products arising from biotechnology research.

With funding from USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), George Norton and colleagues at Virginia Polytechnic Institute focused their study on two crops: tobacco and rice. They chose tobacco because research is underway to discover pharmaceutical uses for the crop. Rice was chosen because it is the subject of a large biotechnology program, with significant implications for U.S. producers, as well as for producers and low-income consumers in the developing world.

Norton's team assessed the costs and benefits of biotechnologies using economic models. Analyses for tobacco focused on three pharmaceutical products: glucerebrosidase (an enzyme for treating Gaucher Disease), human serum albumin (used as a substitute for blood plasma during surgery), and secretory IgA antibody (important in preventing tooth decay). The project team determined that pharmaceutical companies and patent holders would benefit from biotechnology research in tobacco crops, but the outcome for farmers and the public would be limited.

A world trade model was used to project the economic consequences of Asia and the United States implementing biotechnology to adopt cost-reducing genetically modified rice. The model considered the potential impacts of insect-, drought-, and herbicide-resistant genetically modified rice technologies. Projected total benefits from these three technologies was around $2 billion per year, but varied regionally; Asian countries benefited from genetically modified rice, while the United States experienced a small net loss.

Using a telephone survey, the project team assessed the perceived social impact from genetically modified crops, specifically insect-resistant rice and pharmaceutical-producing tobacco. Results suggest most people had strong feelings, positive or negative, toward biotechnologies. Willingness to support genetically modified crops varied with the levels of benefits-consumer support was greater for plant-based pharmaceuticals than for genetically modified food products.

Focus groups in the United States, the Philippines, and Bangladesh elicited stakeholder views or concerns about the potential benefits and costs of obtaining pharmaceutical products from genetically modified crops. The focus group also interviewed tobacco manufacturers, tobacco and rice producers, private biotech firms, environmentalists, government regulators, clergy, students, World Bank representatives, university and government researchers, and consumers. The project team found most citizens of Asian countries were unaware of biotechnology risk or benefit. U.S. farmers are open to the idea of genetically modified crops, but fear a backlash that could negatively affect crop prices.

Educational materials and fact sheets with more details about project findings are available at http://www.agecon.vt.edu/biotechimpact

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Danforth Center Scientists Identify Technology to Reduce the Spread of Rice Virus Discovery May Lead to Increased Rice Crop Yields

St. Louis, Missouri, Jan. 8, 2009 - Building on plant virus research started more than 20 years ago, researchers at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center have discovered a technology that reduces infection by the virus that causes Rice Tungro Disease, once referred to as a limiting factor of rice production in Asia. Danforth Center President Dr. Roger N. Beachy and Research Scientist Dr. Shunhong Dai demonstrated that transgenic rice plants that overexpress either of two rice proteins are tolerant to infection caused by the rice tungro bacilliform virus (RTVB) which is largely responsible for the symptoms associated with Rice Tungro disease. The two proteins, RF2a and RF2b were discovered in Beachy's lab several years ago and are transcription factors known to be important for plant development; the new data suggest that they may be involved in regulating defense mechanisms that protect against virus infection. The discovery, published in the

December 22, 2008 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may open new avenues in the search for disease resistance genes and pathways in plants and other organisms.

Plant viral diseases cause serious economic losses in agriculture, second only to those caused by fungal diseases. Rice Tungro disease is prevalent primarily in South and Southeast Asia and accounts for nearly $1.5 billion annual loss in rice production worldwide. Preventing the occurrence and spread of this virus could result in increased yields ranging from five and 10 per cent annually in affected areas.

"Rice Tungro disease is complex and requires interactions between two different viruses, an insect vector and the host. It has taken a great deal of research effort through the years to gain sufficient information and knowledge about the virus and the host to come to the point of developing a type of resistance to the disease. Hopefully, the results of these studies will lead to improved yields of rice in areas of the world most affected by the disease," said Roger N. Beachy, president, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a global vision to improve the human condition. Research at the Danforth Center will enhance the nutritional content of plants to improve human health, increase agricultural production to create a sustainable food supply, and build scientific capacity to generate economic growth in the St. Louis region and throughout Missouri. Fo

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Togo Approves Biosafety Law

- Crop Biotech Update, ISAAA. Jan 9, 2009 http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate/

Togo's National Assembly adopted a national biosafety law on December 30, 2008. The West African nation of Togo is a neighbor to Burkina Faso, which last year began allowing Bt cotton to be grown commercially. Cotton is Togo's main cash crop.

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Is Genetic Engineering A Good Thing or A Bad Thing?

- Patrick Wall, Associate Professor of Public Health, University College Dublin, Ireland (Former Chair of EFSA); December 2008. Full letter at http://student.ucc.ie/blogs/GMOIreland/item_10.htm

The debate on whether food derived using GM technology is safe for humans and for the environment remains as polarised as ever. However asking whether genetic engineering is a good thing or a bad thing is like asking: "is science a good thing or a bad thing?"

Of course science has delivered huge benefits for mankind and we are all driving cars, using mobile phones, and availing of the latest technological advances. On the down side science has also delivered the atom bomb but no technology is inherently evil and judgement on its utility should be based on the benefits for society and for individuals it can deliver.

Genetic engineering has contributed great advances in medicine with insulin, hormones, cancer treatments and vaccines delivering great health benefits to Irish citizens, and citizens throughout the world, on a daily basis. While GM medicines are widely accepted there is apprehension in Europe about both GM crops, and GM foods, due to concerns about perceived risk to human health, environmental impact, potential to increase the power of multinationals corporations, threat to traditional farming and artisan producers and the general moral acceptability of man interfering with what God has created.

The 2006 Eurobarometer survey on public attitudes to various aspects of biotechnology revealed that 73% of EU citizens were not favourably disposed to GM food although the majority favoured other applications of bio technology. Although 80% reported that they were familiar with GM foods, ironically less that half reported familiarity with the other aspects of biotechnology which they were more positive about. Who currently benefits from the use of GM Crops? Currently the majority of the GM grain varieties approved globally primarily have delivered benefits to farmers, in terms of increased yields and disease resistance, and to companies, in terms of increased profits, rather than to consumers.

This does not mean that there are no varieties in the pipe-line with consumer, or society wide, benefits. In time consumer benefits such as better taste, nutritional value, appearance etc will emerge but currently consumers are not crying out for new foods with particular characteristics and most of us have more than enough choice in foods already. However there are benefits if we look for them, for example, the standard health promotion advice is to take three helpings of oily fish per week, rich in Omega 3, which is beneficial to the cardiovascular system. If everyone followed this advice the oily fish shoals would be decimated however an EU funded research project, Lipgene, of which UCD is a partner, has developed a GM plant high in Omega 3, so using this instead could both benefit consumers' health and preserve the global fish stocks. Some people worry that the technology could result in foods with new allergies whereas others say the scientists could take the gene from the peanut that causes anaphylactic shock in some people and produce a much safer, non allergenic, peanut. Has the technology a positive or a negative impact on the environment?

What to we mean when we talk about a "GM free Ireland"? Does it mean we don't grow GM crops or does it mean that we neither grow such crops nor feed GM grain to our stock?

As a hobby farmer it would be a bit rich of me to recommend that my neighbours in Co Meath, who depend on farming for their livelihoods, should not feed EU approved GM varieties of grain to their livestock, a recommendation, if followed that might result in them going out of business.

Making a case for a "GM free Ireland" because the technology is inherently dangerous or evil won't stand up as it is based on an invalid premise and the technology is being used to good effect in many of our pharmaceutical industries contributing to our GNP. People are entitled to have moral or ethical objections and it is reasonable to expect to have concerns about health or environmental impacts adequately addressed. All of these are not going to be easily resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

However making a business case for a "GM free Ireland" to differentiate our farmers and our product on the global stage and to differentiate our tourist offering, particularly ecotourism, is a different matter. Opting for a "GM free Ireland" would require a declaration in two jurisdictions as we share a border with Northern Ireland. The recent dioxin crisis has damaged the image of "Ireland the Food Island" as the little Green Isle, the bread basket of Europe and we have work to do to repair that damage and we should look at all our options.

Rightly, or wrongly, GM free is perceived to be more "natural", "pure" and "wholesome", and perception appears to be reality with some consumers. It is time, as a first step, that we see the business case, if it exists, for, and against, a GM free Ireland and have a proper debate once and for all. But, as a person who tries unsuccessfully to hold the middle ground, I wonder whether such a debate is possible.

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USDA Reopens Public Comment Period On Proposed Rule for Biotechnology Regulations

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15, 2009--The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will be extending the public comment period for another 60 days on a proposed rule to revise existing regulations regarding the importation, interstate movement and environmental release of certain genetically engineered (GE) organisms.

“We received more than 15,000 comments during the initial comment period on our proposed changes to our biotechnology regulations," said Cindy Smith, administrator of APHIS. "That shows the significance of this proposal. With today's reopening of the comment period, we ask the public to give us further feedback on specific aspects of our proposal. This will help ensure we consider the best possible information as we move forward in an open and transparent manner with this very important and high priority rulemaking."

APHIS is extending the public comment period to allow more time for interested parties to prepare and submit comments. While the public is invited to comment on any of the provisions outlined in the proposed rule, APHIS is particularly interested in receiving comments related to the following areas:

* The scope of the regulations and which GE organisms should be included or excluded from the proposed regulations;
* Incorporation of the noxious weed provisions of the Plant Protection Act into the proposed regulations,
* Elimination of the notification procedure--a streamlined procedure for authorizing the importation, interstate movement or environment release of certain GE organisms--including specific suggestions for protecting against the introduction of plant pests or noxious weeds while minimizing any additional burden or delay for applicants and
* Regulation of GE crops that produce pharmaceutical and industrial compounds, including specific suggestions on how to provide appropriate protection based upon risk.

In some cases commenters identified concerns about these issues, but did not provide specific suggestions as to how the proposed rule could be revised to address these concerns. By reopening the comment period, APHIS intends to gather more specific information and detailed suggestions regarding these issues. With this extension, APHIS will consider all comments received on or before March 17, 2009, including any comments received after the close of the original public comment period on Nov. 24, 2008, and the date of this notice.

In order to provide additional opportunities for the public to comment on the proposed rule, APHIS intends to hold one or more additional public meetings on the proposed rule. The time and place of the public meeting(s) will be announced in the Federal Register. APHIS held three public meetings on the proposed rule during the initial comment period.

The proposed rule was originally published on Oct. 9, 2008. Notice of the extended public comment period is scheduled for publication in the Jan. 16, 2009, Federal Register.

Consideration will be given to comments received on or before March 17, 2009. 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

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Compiled by C. S. Prakash. Write to him at prakash(at)tuskegee.edu