Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





February 5, 2009


Facing Strictest Regulation; Conventional Crops More Harmful?; Make it Fit the Farmer; Obama's Vision; Tesco Making U-Turn; Eco-terrorist Sentencing


* GM Faces Unfair Regulation in Europe
* Conventional Crop Breeding May be More Harmful Than GM
* Make Biotech Fit the Farmer
* Biotech Fits Obama's Vision
* UK: Tesco Boss Prepares for GM U-Turn
* Genetic Glass Ceilings - Transgenics for Crop Biodiversity
* Biosafety of Transgenic Plants (Proteomics confirms it!)
* Perceptions, Knowledge and Ethical Concerns with GM Foods and the GM Process
* A Review of Regulatory Issues Raised By GMOs in Agriculture
* A New Book on Bt Brinjal – A Review
* Eco-terrorist Could be Sentenced to 20 years
* ABIC 2009: Bangkok, Thailand

GM Faces Unfair Regulation in Europe

- Editorial, New Scientist, Feb. 4, 2009 http://www.newscientist.com/

Europe has by far the strictest rules for the approval of genetically modified crops, but are they enough? Firms developing GM crops have to go the extra mile to convince regulators that they won't damage human health or the environment - and that's as it should be. Trials completed in 2003 showed that two herbicide-resistant GM crops were worse for farmland wildlife than their conventional counterparts.

The most damaging aspect of growing these varieties was not the genetic modification itself, but the way farmers applied weed killers. Now, as we report on page 10, a similar crop has been developed without the use of GM - yet it won't have to undergo special trials to test the effects growing it will have on wildlife. This is illogical. Why not regulate all crops the same way?


Conventional Crop Breeding May be More Harmful Than GM

- Andy Coghlan, New Scientist, Feb. 4, 2009 http://www.newscientist.com/

A herbicide-resistant variety of oilseed rape (canola) unveiled last week has raised questions about whether its use by farmers in Europe could be as damaging to farmland wildlife as some genetically modified crops. The development also challenges the effectiveness of Europe's regulations governing the sale of new crop varieties produced by conventional breeding.

Like many genetically modified crops, the new variety can tolerate herbicides. Yet because the variety has been developed by conventional plant-breeding techniques, rather than by genetic manipulation, it is exempt from strict European regulations governing new GM crops. What's more, researchers have voiced concerns that older versions of the non-GM crop, being grown in Canada and Australia, can be more harmful than some GM crops.

Large "farm-scale" trials in the UK completed in 2003 concluded that GM oilseed rape and sugar beet, resistant to the weedkillers glufosinate ammonium and glyphosate respectively, were worse for farmland wildlife than their conventional counterparts.

The new variety of oilseed rape has been developed by BASF of Ludwigshafen in Germany. Like the company's existing Clearfield varieties, it is resistant to weedkillers called imidazolinones, which kill weeds related to oilseed rape such as wild mustard.

The key feature of the new strain is that it relies on a single gene mutation rather than two. This will make it easier for the trait to be bred into high-yield rape varieties.

BASF hopes to have the new crop on sale from 2013, and eventually in Europe. "We certainly see Europe as a potential market," a spokesman told New Scientist. Target countries include Germany, France and the UK.

Analysis of farms in Canada and Australia that have been growing existing Clearfield varieties suggest that imidazolinones can linger in soil for longer than glyphosate, the weedkiller used with many GM crops. "Some crops cannot be planted the year after their use due their susceptibility to the lingering soil residues," says Richard Roush of the University of Melbourne in Australia. "From an agronomic standpoint, it has all of the issues of GM rape, but is arguably worse," he says.

Another potential problem is that the resistance could jump from the crops to weeds that the herbicide is designed to kill, such as wild radish. "Resistance to the imidazolinone herbicides occurs quite quickly in weeds, much faster than resistance to glyphosate," says Christopher Preston of the University of Adelaide in South Australia.

BASF stresses that the new strain has been extensively tested. "Years of laboratory and field testing are done on all plants, both transgenic and non-transgenic, and the crops are proven to be safe for the environment and people," it says.

Whether the new BASF crop makes it into Europe or not, its potential to do so highlights inconsistencies in the current regulatory system, says Les Firbank, who led the farm-scale trials in the UK. "It raises the interesting question of whether we over-regulate GM crops, or under-regulate the others," he says.
The question is, do we over-regulate genetically modified crops, or under-regulate the others?

The European Commission declined an invitation by New Scientist to comment, beyond saying it is "analysing the issue further".
Comment by David Tribe

Before jumping into demanding expensive and excessive regulation for all plant breeding just think of what the consequences are for imposing huge barriers to all innovation in crop productivity.

We are facing huge challenges to meet future of global food demand, and imposing the same cost and time penalties on conventional breeding as currently given to the more precise modern methods will slow down innovation and hamper our ability to cope with the environmental and human welfare challenges of the next 20 years. So perhaps we just have to put up irrational regulation until the European consumers catch up with the consequences in terms of higher food prices


Make Biotech Fit the Farmer

- David Hemming, AgBiotechNet. Feb 4, 2009 http://www.agbiotechnet.com/

Don’t make the farmer fit the technology; make the technology fit the farmer.

Don’t make the farmer fit the technology; make the technology fit the farmer. That is the idea behind alternative applications of biotechnology in developing countries that Guido Ruivenkamp of Wageningen University has recorded in four documentaries, accompanied by a theoretical book.

There has been a heated debate between the advocates and the opponents of biotechnology. One bone of contention is the fact that many biotechnological innovations are designed by the research departments of multinationals, whose aim is not to aid development but, for example, to increase their own sales of pesticides, says Ruivenkamp, of the Critical Technology Construction research unit. They take no notice of local conditions, but make standard products such as seed that is resistant to the company’s own pesticide. Farmers who buy this seed become dependent on that company for pesticides, he says. But this is not a reason to dismiss all biotechnology out of hand, thinks Ruivenkamp. The problem is not the technology itself but the organization around it. And Ruivenkamp’s four documentaries, set in India, Cuba, Equador and Ghana, show how that organization can be done differently.

Ruivenkamp and his cameraman went to projects where scientists and farmers are developing technologies that fit local practices. In Andhra Pradesh, for example, farmers make compost from rubbish. Researchers developed a method of using this compost to breed seedlings using tissue culture, bringing this technique out of the lab and onto the farm, and making it much more affordable for the farmers. Local scientists also developed a local variant of Bacillus thuriengiensis, which makes crops resistant to insects. The film shows how small labs in the countryside – sometimes in farmers’ own homes – can bring appropriate technology within their reach. Another example was the creation of a pesticide from an extract of the seeds of the neem tree.

The collaboration does demand quite a change of attitude, says Ruivenkamp. But that is not stopping increasing numbers of farmers and local researchers from joining forces.

Biotechnology in development – Experiences from the south. Guido Ruivenkamp. Book and dvd €40, ISBN 978-90-8686-070-8. Wageningen Academic Publishers, www.wageningenacademic.com.


Biotech Fits Obama's Vision

- Douglas Jones, AgWeekly, January 30, 2009 http://agweekly.com/

Will President Obama be a supporter of agricultural biotechnology? If his inaugural address is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes.

He never mentioned the word, but those of us who know the value of developing new agricultural technologies could see biotechnology's place in many of the themes the new president expressed in his address.

He spoke of jobs being lost during our economic downturn, but biotechnology promises new jobs. America is unquestionably the world's leader in this industry, which didn't even exist 20 years ago but is now one that promises many new jobs in agricultural and pharmaceutical research. With old industries being shipped overseas or moving into malaise, we can find optimism that a new industry is blossoming and thriving. Not only does biotechnology offer new jobs for urban workers, it is bringing increased profitability to farmers and stimulus to rural economies.

The new president said he envisions a nation where "we will restore science to its rightful place and wield technological wonders." No technology has ever been as thoroughly tested and scientifically analyzed as biotechnology, but still misinformation, emotion and outright dishonesty threaten its development. If indeed science is to be the chief determinant of our progress, biotechnology should unquestionably move forward in an Obama administration.

President Obama said we are challenged to use energy in ways that do not strengthen our adversaries or weaken our planet. Agriculture, which is carried out on hundreds of millions of acres across our land, is a major contributor to energy consumption, fuel emission and soil erosion. The advent of biotech crops has enabled conservation tillage, which reduces trips across fields, keeps soil in place so it does not run off into streams, reduces herbicide applications and leaves crop residue on fields during the winter as food for wildlife. This highly sustainable technology also enables higher yields, so crops can be used for alternative fuels such as ethanol and bio-diesel.

Biotechnology must be extended beyond our shores if we are to meet the great challenges of the next decades. In the next 20 years, global population is expected to increase by 50 percent, to nearly 9 billion people. Demand for food is projected to double. No new acres are available for agriculture, so unless we want to destroy wild lands, we must increase yields at home and abroad. President Obama pledged to the people of poor nations that America will "work alongside you to make your farms flourish." Improved seeds, with built-in protection against insects, disease and drought, are essential to accomplish this goal. But a global climate of acceptance is also essential. Our new president, who is being hailed around the world, can be a great champion for the expansion of biotechnology.

President Obama gave a resounding salute to those individuals and industries that have fueled our nation's economy in the past. "It has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom," he said. In contrast, naysayers, panderers and Luddites throughout history have sought to halt new technologies. Fortunately, they have had limited success. Farmers, who have seen biotechnology reduce our environmental footprint, increase our profits and expand our crop yields, are optimistic that those who seek to continue bringing new technologies to agriculture will not be stymied by onerous regulation or demagoguery. The president's words give us cause for hope.

Douglas Jones of Boise, Idaho, is a board member of Growers for Biotechnology (www.growersforbiotechnology.org).


UK: Tesco Boss Prepares for GM U-Turn

- Elaine Watson, Food Manufacture, Feb. 2, 2009 http://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk

Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy has admitted UK supermarkets may have been too quick to jump on the non-GM bandwagon and signalled Tesco is willing to re-open the debate. Speaking in a panel debate after delivering the City Food Lecture in London last week, Leahy said: “It may have been a failure of us all to stand by the science.

“Maybe there is an opportunity to discuss again these issues and a growing appreciation by people that GM could play a vital role [in feeding the world’s growing population in the face of climate change].”

Former Food Standards Agency chairman professor Lord John Krebs, who also took part in the debate, said: “The moral tragedy of the whole GM debacle was the fact that European prissiness about genetic modification has affected its adoption in Africa.” National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall highlighted the irony that meat from animals in South America fed on GM feed unauthorised in Europe could still be legally imported into the EU – and at more competitive prices.

Their comments reflect a growing feeling amongst scientists, food industry bosses and some politicians that the European Union’s stance on GM is increasingly unsustainable. Indeed, vast tracts of land outside the EU are now devoted to producing GM crops. That meant maintaining a non-GM sourcing policy on animal feed was becoming increasingly costly and impractical, said the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC).

The EU’s zero tolerance stance on imports of feedstocks containing unauthorised GM materials had already “practically stopped the import of maize gluten feed and corn distillers”, said AIC feed executive chairman Tony Bell. Meanwhile, doubling domestic production of non-GM soybeans would “only hope to fill 13% of Europe’s current demand of soybean meal”, he claimed.

One industry source added: “I am pretty certain that several parties involved are actively looking for the way out of their Canute-like positions. Maybe the reality of the costs of GM-avoidance is finally striking home.”

Former Unilever chief scientist professor Peter Lillford, chair of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s (RSC’s) food steering group, predicted the supermarkets would be forced into a u-turn on GM in an interview with Food Manufacture last month: “The supermarkets are going to have to do a u-turn on GM I’d say in the next three years. We’re in a ludicrous position. Go to India or South America and talk about this and you realise it really is a British backyard issue on the world stage.”

A report launched by the RSC and the Institution of Chemical Engineers last month advocated genetic modification “for the development of plants that are capable of withstanding the effects of climate change; have improved nitrogen-fixing characteristics; enhance nutrition by production of vitamins and omega-3 oils; use fertilisers more efficiently; have reduced anti-nutritive factors; resist disease and pests; and survive on alternative nutrients, all of which will help to provide the basic staples at affordable prices to an increasing world population”.

It added: “The higher yields obtained by the genetic modification of crops are believed to have saved millions of square miles of wildlife habitat from conversion to agricultural use.”

Speaking at the launch of the report at Portcullis House in London, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs secretary of state Hilary Benn said: “If we’re going to feed another 3bn people in the next 40 years we’ll need science to help us.” Dame Suzi Leather, chair of a new advisory body to the government called The Council of Food Policy Advisers, added: “We can’t continue with this polarised thinking that modern science has all the answers or none of them.”

However, Emma Hockridge, Soil Association campaigner, said: “Proponents of GM technology have been claiming to be on the brink of developing a range of benefits for years, but these have not delivered.”

She added: “The claims of increased yields have been widely discredited. Concerns about growing and eating GM food are justified by both experience and scientific research. Once these GM crops are released into the environment, they will spread, and transfer GM traits to related native plants. Once released, they can never be recalled. This is a poorly understood, inherently uncertain and potentially very dangerous technology.”


Genetic Glass Ceilings - Transgenics for Crop Biodiversity

- by Jonathan Gressel, 2008, 488 pp. $65.00, 978-0-8018-8719-2 http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/title_pages/9174.html ( Jonathan Gressel is professor emeritus of plant sciences at Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. )

As the world’s population rises to an expected ten billion in the next few generations, the challenges of feeding humanity and maintaining an ecological balance will dramatically increase. Today we rely on just four crops for 80 percent of all consumed calories: wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans. Indeed, reliance on these four crops may also mean we are one global plant disease outbreak away from major famine. In this revolutionary and controversial book, Jonathan Gressel argues that alternative plant crops lack the genetic diversity necessary for wider domestication and that even the Big Four have reached a “genetic glass ceiling”: no matter how much they are bred, there is simply not enough genetic diversity available to significantly improve their agricultural value.

Gressel points the way through the glass ceiling by advocating transgenics—a technique where genes from one species are transferred to another. He maintains that with simple safeguards the technique is a safe solution to the genetic glass ceiling conundrum. Analyzing alternative crops—including palm oil, papaya, buckwheat, tef, and sorghum—Gressel demonstrates how gene manipulation could enhance their potential for widespread domestication and reduce our dependency on the Big Four. He also describes a number of ecological benefits that could be derived with the aid of transgenics. A compelling synthesis of ideas from agronomy, medicine, breeding, physiology, population genetics, molecular biology, and biotechnology, Genetic Glass Ceilings presents transgenics as an inevitable and desperately necessary approach to securing and diversifying the world's food supply.

"At last, a proactive roadmap for the future deployment of plant genetic engineering! Jonathan Gressel has crafted a deeply thoughtful and creative program for the mindful use of crop biotechnology to fulfill its promise."—Norman C. Ellstrand, author of Dangerous Liaisons? When Cultivated Plants Mate with Their Wild Relatives

"I urge you to read Jonny Gressel's book, Genetic Glass Ceilings. I have read the first nine chapters, to the point where he begins his discussion of specific case studies (papaya, tef buckwheat, and others). I have learned so much from Jonny's book. Jonny asks challenging questions and then discusses realistic, clear-eyed solutions to the questions -- all about the genetic glass ceilings faced by plant breeders."—AgBioChatter

"Offers refreshing hope of successfully feeding the world's population . . . Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals."—Choice

"Everyone who wants to learn and understand more about plant breeding and agricultural biotechnology should read Jonathan Gressel’s book. Its wealth of erudition and wisdom makes it worthy of recognition as a modern classic."—Drew L. Kershen, Journal of Commercial Biotechnology


Biosafety of Transgenic Plants - (Proteomics confirms it!)

- Steve Down, Proteomics, February 1, 2009 http://www.spectroscopynow.com/coi/cda/detail.cda?id=20385&type=Feature&chId=10&page=1

One of the principal aims of genetic modification in plants is to confer resistance against pests and diseases in order to increase crop yields. However, even in successful transgenic plants, the issue of biosafety must be addressed, to ensure that no unintended biological modifications are introduced, and to calm public fears. Even though only one or two genes might be modified in a plant, it cannot be assumed that they will not modify the protein profile. Any such alterations could lead to undesired plant metabolites, including potentially toxic compounds.

Recent comparative studies on the proteome and transcriptome of several transgenic plants, including the tomato, potato and soybean, have found very few differences between the modified and wild-type forms. In fact, fewer differences were found than between plant varieties. However, a group of Italian researchers recently reported that the introduction of a foreign gene coding for the signalling peptide systemin into tobacco plants brought about marked changes in the tobacco proteome. So, each transgenic modification should be examined case by case.

Now, that same Italian group has examined the proteomes of transgenic plants, generated by Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated transformation, that were designed to offer antiviral resistance. Angiola Desiderio and colleagues from Genetics and Plant Genomics Section of ENEA in Rome and the Proteomics and Mass Spectrometry Lab of ISPAAM in Naples compared the protein profiles of two plants expressing different recombinant antibodies with those of their unmodified forms.

The tomato Lycopersicon esculentum cv. MicroTom was modified to express the antibody scFv(G4) against the cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) coat protein. The herbaceous plant Nicotiana benthamiana, which is closely related to tobacco, was engineered to express the antibody scFv(B9) against the G1 envelope protein of tomato spotted wilt virus. These viruses both contribute to large crop losses.

Seven protein extraction procedures were tested for both plants, to ensure the optimum number of proteins was isolated and detected. The presence of compounds such as pigments, plant metabolites and polysaccharides have detrimental effects on gel electrophoresis so every effort was made to remove them. The selected protocol used trichloroacetic acid/acetone rather than phenol to extract proteins from the plant leaves.

The differences in protein profiles between the transgenic and control plants were highlighted by two-dimensional differential gel electrophoresis, using imaging techniques and a statistical analysis to identify proteins that were differentially expressed. A total of 1818 spots were detected on the tomato gels but only 10 were differentially expressed. Similarly, 8 proteins out of 1989 for N. benthamiana were apparently affected by genetic transformation. However, the differences in expression were low with an average ratio of less than 2.4.

The proteins were identified by mass spectrometric techniques. The majority were single expression products involved in photosynthesis or defence processes rather than metabolic pathways, so could be caused by "minimal environmental stimuli." Taken together with the low expression ratios, the data led the researchers to conclude that "the proteomic differences observed between transgenic and control plants are negligible, defined and more likely due to physiological variations." This conclusion is consistent with published data for genome transformation performed by Agrobacterium infection.

The expression levels of the scFv antibodies were so low that they were undetectable by 2D gel electrophoresis, although weak signals were observed by Western blotting. These low levels, less than 0.005% of the total soluble protein, were nevertheless still sufficient to confer virus resistance for at least 60 days after inoculation. Untransformed tomato plants were severely affected within 18 days.

The results confirm the close similarity of the protein profiles of both plants and show that virus protection can be conferred safely by genetic engineering. The same confirmatory procedure should be carried out on every new transgenic plant, since their protein profiles and metabolisms are all unique, to ensure they can be used safely and effectively.

Journal of Proteome Research 2009: "Leaf proteome analysis of transgenic plants expressing antiviral antibodies" http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/pr800359d


Perceptions, Knowledge and Ethical Concerns with GM Foods and the GM Process

- Andrew J. Knight, Public Understanding of Science, March 1, 2009; Vol. 18, No. 2, 177-188 (andrew.knight{@}ns.sympatico.ca , Food Safety Policy Center, Michigan State University). via Agnet.

Compared to their European counterparts, the American public has been characterized as relatively unknowledgeable and indifferent about genetically modified foods. To evaluate these claims, six focus groups were held in three Arkansas cities to: (1) determine the extent of knowledge the public possesses about genetically modified foods; (2) detail perceived benefits and risks associated with agricultural biotechnology applications; and (3) explore lay perceptions about the genetic modification process itself.

Participants demonstrated partial knowledge, and tended to overestimate the number of genetically modified foods. However, participants tended to be familiar with debates surrounding benefits, risks and moral issues associated with agricultural biotechnology applications. Findings also showed that while participants were not overly concerned about combining genes between plants, they were concerned about inserting animal genes into plants. If these results are any indication, moral and ethical issues will dominate any discussion of foods derived from a mixture of animal and plant genes.


A Review of Regulatory Issues Raised By Genetically Modified Organisms in Agriculture

- Celina Ramjoue, CAB Reviews, Nov 17, 2008 http://www.cababstractsplus.org/cabreviews *
(European Commission, Directorate-General for Research, Brussels, Belgium. celina.ramjoue(@)ec.europa.eu)

The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture has been controversial since the
late 1990s, and the question of how to regulate the products of modern agricultural biotechnology
is central to that debate. Aside from potential impacts on human health and the environment,
regulators must consider and are influenced by a range of issues that go beyond scientific evidence.

This paper reviews these regulatory issues, using the case studies of GMO regulation in the USA
and the European Union for illustration. It first discusses approaches to technology and nature as
fundamental choices associated with the use of GMOs in agriculture. It then moves on to socioeconomic
issues, which form the context in which regulatory decisions are made. On the basis of
these two first sections, the review turns to a discussion of ways in which regulators frame GM
crop and food policies. Finally, it addresses possible challenges to regulation, in particular critical
public opinion or trade clashes resulting from conflicting regulatory approaches.

This paper concludes that, when there is perceived scientific uncertainty concerning the potential impacts of
a new technology on the part of certain stakeholders and actors in the debate, non-scientific
regulatory considerations, for example relating to ethical, social and economic issues, are of crucial
importance in shaping regulation.


A New Book on Bt Brinjal – A Review

- by T. M. Manjunath, Ph.D., Consultant, Bangalore, India; manjunathtm@gmail.com

"Choudhary, B. and Gaur, K. 2009. The Development and Regulation of Bt Brinjal in India (Eggplant/Aubergine). ISAAA Brief No.38, ISAAA, Ithaca, NY, 102 pp."

The above book recently published by ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications) provides a comprehensive review on all aspects of brinjal (eggplant) cultivation and also describes the efforts made in developing Bt brinjal to control its major lepidopteron pest, the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) - Leucinodes arbonalis, which has been responsible for heavy economic losses. This 102-page, peer reviewed, document is made available, free of charge, on its websites www.isaaa.org and www.isaaa.org/kc.

The book is divided into four parts comprising ten chapters. The FIRST part describes the genetic diversity, biology, production and importance of brinjal as a vegetable and the challenge posed in its production by the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) which has been responsible for 60 to 70% yield losses. The SECOND part provides an insight into the technology involved in the development of biotech crops and furnishes valuable global statistics on the status and performance of genetically engineered/modified (GE/GM) crops; it also highlights the safety, benefits and success of Bt-cotton in India and emphasizes the need for biotech vegetable crops. The THIRD part describes the biology of FSB and its nature of damage and explains the scientific procedures involved in developing Bt brinjal for its control. In the FOURTH and final chapter, the authors describe the prevailing regulatory framework in India and give details of the biosafety studies that Bt brinjal has undergone such as pollen flow, soil impact, effect on non-target organisms and also the proactive methods recommended for insect resistance management. A list of vegetable improvement programmes and also a list of vegetable seed companies in India are also given.

Bt brinjal has completed all the biosafety studies prescribed by the Indian regulatory authorities and established its safety to humans, animals and environment. It is now in the final stage of regulatory approval and all set to be the second GM crop after Bt cotton, or the first vegetable GM crop, to be approved in India. Those who doubt the safety and benefits of Bt brinjal should go through this book to seek scientific clarifications. The book is rich in its technical contents, carries a well-written foreword by Clive James and provides useful references to more than 120 publications. It is a one-stop-shop on brinjal/Bt-brinjal for scientists and common readers alike. The authors, Bhagirath Choudhary and Kadambini Gaur, deserve congratulations on their efforts in writing this very useful and timely book. For any enquiries on this book, one may contact the senior author b.choudhary@cgiar.org


Eco-terrorist Could be Sentenced to 20 Years

- Daily Tribune, February 5, 2009 http://www.dailytribune.com

LANSING (AP) — More than nine years later, the case of a New Year's Eve explosion and fire at Michigan State University will end with punishments for an environmental activist and two other people.

The government wants a 20-year prison sentence for 47-year-old Marie Mason of Cincinnati. Prosecutors say it would be the toughest federal punishment ever imposed in a case of so-called eco-terrorism.

Marie Mason "remains an unrepentant and unapologetic advocate of violence and intimidation as a means of protest," Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagen Frank said in a January court filing. "The arson at MSU was not the first time defendant Mason destroyed property for her cause, and it was far from the last time."

In September, Mason pleaded guilty to conspiracy and arson, a prosecution that was greatly aided by Frank Ambrose, her former husband, who cooperated with the FBI. In 2007, a man called police after discovering gas masks, maps, an M-80 explosive and anti-government writings in a Detroit-area trash bin. They had belonged to Ambrose, who was trying to shed the remnants of his earlier activism on behalf of the Earth Liberation Front, known as ELF.

Confronted with his old possessions, the Detroit man decided to become an FBI informant. Months before pleading guilty to the campus arson, Ambrose secretly recorded 178 conversations with Mason and other people of interest to federal agents.

On New Year's Eve 1999, Mason and Ambrose caused an explosion and fire at Michigan State's Agriculture Hall to protest research on genetically modified crops. It grew out of control, causing more than $1 million in damage. No one was injured, but a third-floor window landed on a bike rack.

"Had any student or other person been present at the point of impact, he or she would almost certainly have been severely injured, if not killed," Frank wrote.

In her plea agreement last year, Mason admitted 12 other acts of property destruction between 1999 and 2003, from homes under construction in the Detroit area, including the arsons in Washington Township, to tree spikings to protest timber sales in Indiana.

She was not charged with those incidents, but a judge can consider them when determining a sentence. Unlike Ambrose, Mason refused to cooperate with the FBI. She has been elevated "to the status of movement heroine" among radical environmentalists on the Internet, the prosecutor said.

"She has become a figure of admiration to that community, a portion of whose membership continues to bully, threaten and destroy," Frank wrote. Ambrose, 34, began serving a nine-year prison sentence in December. He pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to commit arson. Mason's hearing was set for 9 a.m. today in federal court in Lansing. The arson at Michigan State was a protest against genetically modified crops and caused more than $1 million in damage.


ABIC 2009: Bangkok, Thailand

- September 22 - 25, 2009 http://www.abic.ca/abic2009.html

ABIC 2009 will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, September 22 – 25, 2009. The Conference host for the 2009 event is the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC).

BIOTEC is an autonomous institution under the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), part of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). BIOTEC’s mission is to provide financial support to strengthen the research capacity of Thai scientists in biotechnology, and to develop infrastructure in order to promote R&D in the private sector. BIOTEC currently has over 10 research units, which act as a hub for scientific exchange and support centers for graduate student research. The largest of the in-house research facilities in the BIOTEC Central Research Unit located at the Thailand Science Park, Pathumthani. The Central Research Unit focuses on bioresource utilization, the discovery of drugs to find treatment for tropical diseases, plant biotechnology and food biotechnology.

Thailand’s economy is an agricultural based economy and is considered a leading exporter of various agricultural and food products. BIOTEC have organized various international conferences which have been well received by the international scientific community. The ABIC Foundation is managed by Ag-West Bio Inc. - abicfoundation@abic.ca