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February 13, 2009


Kenya Has One More Feather on Cap; Cuba Rises; Very Political Business; Calls for European rethink; Geopolitics of Food Scarcity


* Kenyan President Signs Biosafety Bill Into Law
* France Defends GM Ban After Report Says Safe in Food
* GMO's: A Very Political Business
* La France doit-elle autoriser la culture du maïs transgénique ?
* Cuba's First GM Corn
* Golden Rice On Target For Release In 2011
* Coping With Drought Via Seed Technology
* GM Poplars to Grow Next Door
* Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building
* Calls for European rethink on GM crops
* The Geopolitics of Food Scarcity

Kenyan President Signs Biosafety Bill Into Law

- Henry Neondo, All Africa Science News, Feb. 12, 2009 http://africasciencenews.org

Kenya' s President Mwai Kibaki has today signed into law the biosafety Bill which has been pending since last December when Parliament passed it after years of discussions.

The President action now allows regulatory authorities to draw up regulations that would be used to facilitate implementation of the Biosafety Act.

The eight government agencies, namely National Environment Management Authority, the Kenya Bureau of Standards, the Kenya Plant Health Insepctorate Service, the Public Health, The Kenya Industrial Property Institute, the Directorate of Veterinary Service, the National Council for Science and Technology have been meeting since when the Bill was passed by Parliament in anticipation of the signing it into law.

Kenya is the most advanced country in East Africa in terms of GMO research, with crops engineered to be insect or virus-resistant already in the pipeline. Any biosafety law eventually adopted in Kenya should also help neighbouring countries optimise their own biotechnological practices. Indeed, many are relying on a 'wait and see' approach to biosafety regulation - looking to Kenya to take the first steps.

As host to the meeting at which the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was opened for signature in 2000, Kenya was the first country to sign up. Ratification followed in 2003, and the Biosafety Bill was drafted in 2005 to bring Kenya's law and practice in line with the protocol. Meanwhile, three countries in Africa now grow and use GM crops, this is according to the latest report on the global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops 2008.

The report released in Nairobi for the first tie by Dr Clive James shows that the number of countries planting biotech crops in Africa have marginally grown to three from one country, South Africa in 2007. In 2008, Burkina Faso (Bt Cotton) and Egypt (Bt Maize) joined the exclusive clubs of countries growing and commercializing biotech crops.

Globally, the number of countries planting biotech crops have soaredto 25 and the global hectarage of biotech crops rose by 9.4% above previous year or 10.7 million hectare increase, reaching 12.5 million hectares. According to Dr James, the rise is 74-fold hectares rise since 1996, making biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology.

Last year also saw a new biotech crop, RR sugar beet become first commercialized in the US and Canada. Egypt, Burkina Faso Bolivia, Brazil and Australia introduced for the first time biotech crops that have been commercialized in other countries.

The report shows that the number of crop farmers increased by 1.3 million in 2008, reaching 13.3 million globally in 25 countries, notably 90% or 12.3 million were small and resource-poor farmers in developing countries.


France Defends GM Ban After Report Says Safe in Food

- Sybille de La Hamaide, Reuters, February 12

PARIS - A report by the French food safety agency that says genetically modified maize is safe for humans does not call France's ban on the crop into question, Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said on Thursday. Borloo's statement came in response to an article in the Le Figaro daily, which said the agency Afssa did not see any health risks to the insect-resistant MON 810 maize developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto.

MON 810 is the only genetically modified crop whose cultivation is approved in the European Union but France suspended its cultivation last year, invoking a so-called safeguard clause against the European Commission's authorisation. Borloo said the ban was imposed not because of any direct threat to human or animal health but because of the risk that its cultivation could create wider environmental problems, notably contaminating other crops.

'The basis of the safeguard clause, which tackles open-field cultivation of the Monsanto 810 maize, is on risks considered as severe for the environment and not on sanitary risks,' he said. Borloo is due to appear before the European Commission next week to justify France's ban.

Separately, Afssa said the report, which had been due to be made public on Feb. 20 after Borloo's appearance before the Commission, repeated what had already been said in an earlier report, which has been public since June last year. 'If you look at the risks for human and animal feeding concerning this GMO (LSE: GMO.L - news) , there is no change in Afssa's stance,' the agency's director general Pascale Briand told Reuters.

'Monsanto 810 maize and its by-products have the same level of health and food security level as conventional maize.'

Unlike in the United States and Latin America, where they are more common, only seven EU nations planted GM (NYSE: GM - news) crops last year, an industry-sponsored report said this week. Polls show the vast majority of the French are opposed to GM crops because they have not seen enough proof that they do not pose risks to consumers and the environment.

Monsanto says the protein contained in the maize has selective toxicity but is harmless to humans, fish and wildlife. Several green groups expressed surprise that Afssa's report had been leaked in the French press.

'The publication of Afssa's conclusions is not a coincidence. This publication in the press is scandalous,' said environmental group CAP21. It and other groups called on France to stand firm against the European Commission, which had authorised the GM maize.

After the article in Le Figaro, Afssa said it had decided to make its new report public by posting it on its website www.afssa.fr immediately.


GMO's: A Very Political Business

- Editorial, Le Figaro (France), Feb 11, 2009

If there is a subject which demonstrates the difficulty to govern in today's world it is that of GMO's. For many years, the most informed scientists of our country state that genetically modified organizations are "beneficial for human health". In vain though, because the democracy opinion, the vox populi, decided the opposite. So much so that even Nicolas Sarkozy, always straight to the point to break the taboos, took a step back in the face of the anti-GMO rabble when arriving at Elysée. But for how much longer?

The conclusions of the new report of the French food safety agency (Afssa), which Le Figaro revealed on Wednesday, confirms what this same institution said back in 2004, and what l' Academy of Science has been saying repeatedly and at length: nothing opposes GMO's. Which attitude thus will the French government adopt, which asked the EU last year for a one year long moratorium freezing the cultivation of MON810 maize? This favour had been granted under the condition that France returned with evidence proving it was unsafe. On February 16th, in Brussels, Jean-Louis Borloo will have to face facts.

In fact, this debate on GMO's, has nothing to do with science, it is all politics. The current cotext has led to the confusion. Progress is often regarded as suspect, precaution has become wise. Some unfortunate public health scares have don nothing to help the matter (contaminated blood, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, hepatitis B...). The painting has been skillfully tarnished by the organic lovers, those against world consumerism so that the anti GM claws could get into the public opinion polls. Lies and hypocrisy pay. Do those people who reply to the polls know though that European cattle are fed imported GM soya?

So many have joined the ecology bandwagon that the politicians could do nothing by join in the movement. As if it was the way history was headed. By organizing the Grenelle de l' environment, Nicolas Sarkozy was responding to an electorial request simply impossible to circumvent. But he no doubt knew also that he would have to make compromises.

In order to keep nuclear power, the jewel of the French industry, GMO's were temporarily sacrificed. Its treatment as part of the Grenelle was a masquerade and then skilfully entrusted to the High ranking authority with its extremely debatable composition. "The serious doubt" on the GMO emitted by this one thus led to this moratorium of one year and with a new calling upon Afssa.

Will reason finally win over the coming days? Scientists, medical experts, economists, financial experts, there is no lack of arguments in favour of MON810 maize.

The experts have done their work, away from the hassle of the lobbyists. It is now up to the politicians to not yield to demagogy.


La France doit-elle autoriser la culture du maïs transgénique ?

From CSP: An Ongoing survey on Le Figaro's website is asking its readers whether France should lift its moratorium at

If you would like to vote, please do so soon as Le Figaro polls are usually published in the newspaper version the next day.

If you would like to see the French moratorium lifted, please vote "oui".

If you would like to see the French moratorium maintained, please don't bother.

the results so far:
oui - 35.16%
non - 64.84%

I am glad that at least one-third of French want progress.

(Hat Tip: Vivian Moses)

Cuba's First GM Corn

- Veronica Guerrero, Nature Biotechnology 27, 110 (2009)

Cuba will be planting its first genetically modified (GM) corn to help reduce its dependence on costly food imports. The Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) of Havana will begin the experimental plantation of 125 acres with the GM corn, provisionally called FR-Bt1. This corn is currently undergoing regulatory approval for its environmental release.

"Cuban rules are very strict--- but in Cuba there is a political will for employing the technology," explains Carlos Borroto, deputy director of the state-run center, and head of the Cuban National Program of Agricultural Biotechnology. The FR-Bt1, whose technical details cannot be revealed due to confidentiality clauses in the registration process, is aimed at animal feed and will be used exclusively in Cuba. The GM crop is engineered to resist the country's main pest: the lepidopteron Spodoptera frugiperda. The FR-Bt1 corn was developed by a large CIGB team, led by Camilo Ayra, in collaboration with other research bodies.

The entire project was financed with public funds from the Cuban Council of State. "Because the corn has shown an elevated level of multiplication, some 2.5 acres could produce enough seeds to plant 300 acres," says Borroto. Although the use of GM organisms is debated in Cuba, public perception is mostly positive because these developments do not seek commercial gain but the nation's food sufficiency. The outcome of these field trials is expected for April 2009.


Golden Rice On Target For Release In 2011


GENETICALLY modified (GMO) Golden Rice may be available to farmers as early as 2011, possibly helping to save millions of children threatened with blindness or premature death due to Vitamin A deficiency. Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), said that it expected to release the GMO rice, enriched with Vitamin A, by 2011. It was conducting its first field trials in the Philippines this year.

It would be 10 years since the invention in 2001 of Golden Rice, which scientists have said may prove that the controversial biotechnology can help feed the poor and needy if applied with care and caution. There is as yet no GMO rice grown commercially. Widely produced transgenic products, such as GMO soy, corn or cotton, are mostly pest- or herbicide-resistant. They are beneficial to farmers, but not necessarily to consumers.

Golden Rice, which includes three new genes, including two from daffodil, is yellowish and contains beta-carotene, a substance that human bodies convert to Vitamin A. Its research has been seen as a model for cooperation between public and private sectors in pursuit of human welfare. Its inventors are claiming no property rights for the rice. Neither are the companies that own the technology involved.

Zeigler was talking early this week after IRRI received a grant of US$20 million for three years - equivalent to 17 per cent of its budget - from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

High grain prices, climate change
The executive said the funding came at a vital time when soaring food prices and climate change threatened the gains made through the Green Revolution over the past several decades. The concern that we have-- is that these gains in productivity, food security, cheap rice, cheap food are in jeopardy, Zeigler said. We have to address this.

IRRI says the fund will help it reach 18 million households, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with better rice varieties and raise yields by about 50 per cent in the next 10 years.

IRRI calculated the world needed to increase the annual rice output by nearly 70 percent to 880 million tonnes by 2025 from 520 million tonnes currently to meet projected global demand. We are focusing on more difficult rice growing areas that do not have irrigation, Zeigler said. Drought tolerance and flood tolerance is the key for very impoverished areas.


Coping With Drought Via Seed Technology

- Robb Fraley, Denver Post, Feb 11, 2009

Mark Twain once said, "Water, taken in moderation, cannot hurt anybody." Today, more than a century later, Twain's comments ring true and with growing importance - especially in agriculture.

Too much water, as we saw in 2008 in the Upper Midwest, at best delays planting and at worst wipes out entire crops. Too little water, and plants struggle to produce grain that provides us with food, feed and, increasingly, fuel.

Too little water is something Coloradoans and others in the West know all too well. As someone raised on a farm and working in agriculture today, I offer that no one appreciates how precious water is more than farmers - particularly those in the West.

Experts contend agriculture gulps 70 percent of the fresh water supply every year. In Colorado, the figure is more than 80 percent. But, simply turning off the spigot puts in jeopardy the bountiful harvest we enjoy since nearly half of the value of all crops sold in this country comes from irrigated land.

So the question for agriculture is: How to produce the same yields or more and use fewer resources like water? It's a question some of the brightest minds in academia, agribusiness and government are discussing this week at the Sustainability Management Conference here in Denver.

It's also among other questions I challenge our researchers at Monsanto with every day: How do we help make every acre the most productive for farmers? How can we lessen the impact on the environment using new tools and technologies? The questions are big and important. But, of course, there is no simple answer and no one group can do it alone.

For our part, Monsanto invests more than $2.6 million every day researching new seeds through breeding and biotechnology that will help farmers produce more grain and conserve more resources.

This year, for example, our drought tolerant corn research advanced development phases, potentially bringing it within three years of the necessary approvals for planting in the Western Corn Belt. This is the first drought-tolerant seed in corn ever submitted for regulatory review in the United States.

More than five years of drought research trials across the United States tell us corn plants with this technology yield between 6-10 percent more grain in the face of limited water; effectively sipping their water rather than gulping it down.

We're also working on plants that use nitrogen more efficiently and are developing products to reduce the use of pesticides and make no-till farming more profitable and practical.

We believe these advancements will push grain yields to new heights on the same number of acres to satisfy the growing demands of our country and the exploding populations of the developing world.

Biotechnology is one tool in a growing agricultural tool box to produce safe, relatively inexpensive and abundant food supplies. Use of advanced information technology, new equipment, satellite imagery, breakthrough collaborations and more have helped U.S. agriculture continue to set the pace of productivity for the world.

With relatively little public fanfare, corn yields - the amount of grain produced per acre - have surged since the 1970's to a national average of more than 150 bushels per acre. Soybean yields continue to outpace those of other crops, like wheat and rice. Despite this success by U.S. farmers, demand for grain continues to outpace supply.

Just as local experts forecast the number of people living in the Rocky Mountain State to double by 2050, trends show the world's population increasing to 9.3 billion people, the equivalent of the population of three Chinas, in this same period. This means the world will need to produce as much food in the next four decades as has been produced in all of human history.

The challenge is daunting. Yet, agriculture has never had a better opportunity to help solve some of the most pressing needs facing our nation and our world. As with many large and complex issues the answers sometimes start small, like a powerful technology contained in a tiny seed.
Dr. Robert "Robb" T. Fraley is executive vice president and chief technology officer of Monsanto Company, where he oversees integrated crop and seed agribusiness technology and research.


GM Poplars to Grow Next Door

- Hayley Birch, Nature Biotechnology 27, 107 (2009)

Researchers at the Ghent, Belgium-based Flanders Institute of Biotechnology (VIB) have gained ground in a long-running battle over the planting of genetically modified (GM) poplar trees by applying for permits to plant the trees across the border. The Belgian government initially refused VIB's application to run field trials on home turf, but now the Dutch government, which has already issued a 'positive opinion', may grant them permission.

The transgenic poplars are deficient in the enzyme cinnamoyl-CoA reductase, which reduces the lignin content making them more suitable for bioethanol production, although so far their benefits have only been demonstrated in the lab. The VIB had hoped for a green light from the Belgian Biosafety Council to run the trials closer to its research facilities and pilot-scale biorefinery. Instead, researchers will be forced to make regular trips to neighboring Holland to monitor and harvest the trees.

Willy De Greef, secretary general of EuropaBio, the Brussels-based association for European bioindustry, says, "VIB is a public institute, which doesn't have the resources of a multinational. I don't even dare to think about what it does to their annual research budget." He says if European laws governing the planting of GM field trials were more consistently adhered to across member states, such situations wouldn't arise. A final decision from the Dutch government is due in spring 2009.


Seed Biotechnologies: Filling the Gap between the Public and Private Sectors

University of California, Davis; May 11-12, 2009 http://sbc.ucdavis.edu/About_the_Center/Symposium.htm

The Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis is celebrating it's 10th year! To help us commemorate this event, we are hosting a symposium that will focus on the topics which are most relevant to the seed industry today.

The issues facing the seed industry are not confined to either the public or private sector. However, issues of intellectual property, confidentiality, and competition often complicate public-private interactions. Through this symposium, we will bring together scientists from universities, government and private industry to network and discuss technological advancements in plant breeding, seed biology and their applications in agriculture, as well as how to educate the next generation of plant scientists.

Keynote speakers for this event are as follows: Rob Dirks, Rijk Zwaan; Molly Jahn, University of Wisconsin; Mathilde Causse, INRA, France. Contact Jamie Miller at 530-752-9985 or jkmiller@ucdavis.edu


Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building


The Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building (GIPB) is a multi-party initiative of knowledge institutions around the world that have a track record in supporting agricultural research and development, working in partnership with country programmes committed to developing stronger and effective plant breeding capacity.

As a partnership of stakeholders from the public, private and civil society sectors, the initiative is aimed at catalyzing and supporting national, regional and global action among relevant international organizations, foundations, universities and research institutes, corporate and business sector, civil society associations, and national and regional bodies.


Calls for European rethink on GM crops

- Dan Buglass, Scotsman, 13 February 2009 http://business.scotsman.com/

THE Scottish and UK governments remain resolute in their opposition to the commercial production of crops using genetically modified technology, but it appears that politicians throughout the European Union are being left increasingly behind what is happening out there in the wider world.
According to EuropiaBio, an industry-wide organisation, 13 million farmers worldwide are now cultivating GM crops, including maize, soya, sugar cane, and wheat, and are increasingly finding that there is minimal resistance to the new technology, wh

ich frequently allows farmers to operate with lower chemical inputs while their crops appear to be more tolerant to drought.

A recent survey in the UK involving almost 25,000 farmers conducted by the respected National Farm Research Unit showed that 45 per cent of growers are in favour of GM while 39 per cent are in the "don't know" category, with just 15 per cent clearly opposed. In France 62 per cent of maize growers would like the option to cultivate GM crops while in Poland the comparable figure is well over 80 per cent.

Speaking yesterday in Brussels James Ede, of the NFU of England and Wales, said: "European farmers are increasingly interested in using new technologies to meet the multiple challenges of feeding a growing population whilst minimising the impact on the environment.

"In the coming weeks, European ministers will have the opportunity to vote and end the 11-year moratorium on new biotech cultivation and to lift unscientific bans in member states. Europe's leaders should respond to the demands of their farmers and offer them the freedom to choose the same tools available to their competitors around the world."

In its annual study the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications found that 13.3 million farmers in 25 countries planted 125 million hectares of GM crops in 2008. The survey also revealed that an additional 1.3 million farmers planted 10.7 million hectares of GM crops in three new countries, including Egypt and Burkino Faso last year. Here in the UK, organic producers are under huge pressure in respect of feed costs. According to the strictures laid down by the Soil Association, they are prohibited from using any animal feeds that contain GM crops.

This is proving almost impossible, especially in relation to soya - a major source of protein. Prices of non-GM proteins have more than doubled and many producers are seeking a derogation that will allow then to use GM feeds. Strictly speaking, these farmers will no longer be classified as being organic.

This week newspaper Le Figaro revealed that a report, previously suppressed, presented to the French Food Standards Agency, concluded that the French government, which plans to vote against the adoption of GM technology next Monday in Brussels, is not acting on sound science.

Julian Little, the chairman of the UK's Agricultural Biotechnology Council, said: "Sadly, no GM crops of benefit to British farmers have been approved for cultivation in the past ten years.

"Farmers need the freedom to choose modern and efficient high-yielding farming methods based on tried and tested science to both produce enough food and to safeguard our natural resources.

"Agricultural biotechnology, particularly the use of GM, can be a valuable part of achieving these objectives."

However, public opinion in the UK, still remains opposed to the potential of GM crops. That seems strange to many farmers who readily cite the use of embryo transplants and artificial insemination in the livestock industry as being not that distant from GM technology.

Golden Promise remains a popular variety of malting barley for the whisky industry and commands a premium price at harvest. It was developed in the early 1960s as a result of gamma radiation on an old variety called Maythorpe.

Many farmers argue that this process was a precursor of GM technology, but the debate shows every sign of continuing.

Readers respond:
- Crofter Joe, The Highlands 13/02/2009
There is nothing new in this, the luddites tried to stop the industrial revolution, and the same will happen with this technology, eventually we will have to adopt it if we are to remain competitive within the world.The alternative is to return to subsistance farming and let the rest of the world feed us and that will be with modified crops!

- Morry, Scotland 13/02/2009
1, You've got a point there Crofter Joe, and when you think about it "man" has been genetically meddling with crops since time and agriculture began, otherwise, why do we have so many vegetables and fruits which have been crossed with one another, which gives us so much variety?


The Geopolitics of Food Scarcity

- Lester Brown, Spiegel, 02/11/2009

In some countries social order has already begun to break down in the face of soaring food prices and spreading hunger. Could the worldwide food crisis portend the collapse of global civilization?

One of the toughest things for us to do is to anticipate discontinuity. Whether on a personal level or on a global economic level, we typically project the future by extrapolating from the past. Most of the time this works well, but occasionally we experience a discontinuity that we failed to anticipate. The collapse of civilization is such a case. It is no surprise that many past civilizations failed to grasp the forces and recognize signs that heralded their undoing. More than once it was shrinking food supplies that brought about their downfall.

Water tables are falling in countries that contain half the world's people, including the three biggest grain producers -- China, India, and the United States.

Does our civilization face a similar fate? Until recently it did not seem possible, but our failure to deal with the environmental trends that are undermining the world food economy -- most importantly falling water tables, eroding soils, and rising temperatures -- forces the conclusion that such a collapse is possible.

These trends are taking a significant toll on food production: In six of the last eight years world grain production has fallen short of consumption, forcing a steady drawdown in stocks. World carryover stocks of grain (the amount remaining from the previous harvest when the new harvest begins) have dropped to only 60 days of consumption, a near record low. Meanwhile, in 2008 world grain prices have climbed to the highest level ever -----

Read on at http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,606937,00.html