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 27, 2009


Appetite for Biotech; Let Us Not Overreact; Aiding Food Security; Farmers Want GM Wheat; What Allergy?


* Getting An Appetite for Biotechnology
* India: Bt Cotton Increases Yields At Lower Cost
* Overreacting to Perceived Risks: Fear and Intimidation Distort Information
* GM Crops Aid Food Security
* U.S. Wheat Farmers Want Biotech Wheat
* India: Mahyco Gets Ready to go Commercial for Bt Rice, Wheat
* European Union - GM Food Debate
* Nigeria: Stakeholders Urge NASS to Pass the Biosafety Bill
* Biotech Crop Produce Is No More Allergenic Than the Non Biotech
* Video - Knowledge, Technology and Alleviation of Poverty
* Fungal and Mycotoxin Contamination in Bt Maize and Non-Bt Maize
* Expansion of Biotech Crop Plantings in 2008
* Scholarships available for Latin American journalists

Getting An Appetite for Biotechnology

- Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, BBC, Feb 24, 2009

A growing population and climate change is going to make it difficult to meet the demand for food in the coming years, says German MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis. In this week's Green Room, he argues that we must embrace the solutions offered by biotechnology if we are going to feed the planet. In 2050, according to estimates, there will be nine billion mouths to feed around the world who will demand high quality, nutritious food.

Yet we will not be able to sustain a growing population if we do not amend our methods of agricultural production to reflect the new challenges before us. We should stop our ideological debates and start thinking about how to strengthen the security and sustainability of global food production.

The application of advanced genetic science in breeding new crop varieties, including genetic modification methods, cannot alone address these massive challenges but it can be a significant part of the solution. One way to enhance global food production is the use of Marked Assisted Selection (MAS), which allows the improvement of crops through "smart breeding". This involves the crossbreeding of plants of similar families, rather than their genetic modification through the integration of foreign genes.

The application of genetic modification methods would be an additional alternative in the development of energy-rich and environmentally safe biomass for industrial use. However, crops for the food production based on the MAS technique and GM crops for industrial use should be strictly separated.

Unfortunately, in Europe, we are lacking an open and balanced debate on the contribution that modern agriculture technologies could make to help farmers face today's challenges.

Lightening the load
The EU has set ambitious targets to tackle climate change, setting its member states the goal of cutting emissions by 20% (possibly 30%) from 1990 levels by 2020 “GM crops used today have been produced to reduce the need for tillage or ploughing, allowing farmers to adopt conservation or 'no-till' farming practices ”

Agricultural practices - such as ploughing, deforestation, cattle and fertiliser use - currently account for about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, making it more important than ever to curb emissions from this sector.

Agricultural biotechnology can help by reducing the production of greenhouse gases, helping crops adapt to varied and often adverse environments, and by helping to increase yields while using fewer hectares of land and other inputs.

For example, GM insect resistant crops have been developed so that farmers can apply significantly fewer insecticide treatments. This consequently leads to a reduction of fuel used by farmers when they spray pesticides on their fields, which means a saving in carbon dioxide emissions.

Additionally, GM crops used today have been produced to reduce the need for tillage or ploughing, allowing farmers to adopt conservation or "no-till" farming practices.

This has positive consequences in terms of mitigation: * tractor fuel use for tillage is reduced * soil quality is enhanced and levels of soil erosion are cut * less tillage keeps carbon in the soil, leading to lower emissions

The application of genetic technology to make plants better equipped to deal with a changing and difficult climate is one of the most exciting and important areas of advance in biotechnology. Water shortages are already costing billions of dollars a year in crop shortfalls around the world, and are likely to grow more costly. The preservation of our water resources is key as climate change increases the risk of water shortages and desertification.

GM crops have already been developed to be better adapted to warmer conditions. Herbicide-tolerant soya, maize, cotton and oilseed rape have allowed farmers to reduce the amount of ploughing required before planting their crop, thereby reducing water dissipation.

They also help to reduce fossil fuel use, carbon emissions and soil erosion. New varieties of drought resistant crops, or crops which can be grown on marginal lands, also offer new opportunities to some of the world's poorest regions.

Research into drought tolerant crops, such as "water efficient maize" produced by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), a public-private research partnership based in Nairobi, suggests that yields can be maintained in water depleted situations.

There are also a number of projects being developed to optimise the nitrogen use of a crop, a vital requirement in many parts of the world where nitrogen fertilisers are in short supply. Recognising that the production of fertilisers is energy demanding, these traits will be as beneficial to Europe, as they are to Africa.

Reasoned debate
In its annual study, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) found that 13.3 million farmers in 25 countries planted 125 million hectares of biotech crops during 2008. It is clear that, when given the choice, farmers choose to benefit from the potential that GM offers. The vast majority of farmers benefitting from GM technology are resource poor, frequently with small plots of land and limited technology to assist their farming.

In the past year, countries such as Egypt and Burkina Faso have embraced GM technology in recognition of the benefits they provide to both productivity and sustainability. But we should not forget the sensitivity of the issue for European consumers. We therefore need strict transparency and control in order to allow consumers choice.

However, only one GM crop has been approved for cultivation in Europe in the past 10 years. As the challenges we face become more acute, there has never been a better time for a genuine discussion about the benefits of biotechnology, smart breeding and GM crops for industrial use.

Dr Jorgo Chatzimarkakis is a German MEP and a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development -- Do you agree with Dr Jorgo Chatzimarkakis? Does biotechnology have a key role to play in terms of helping the world feed itself? Will the advances help improve food security for billions of people? Or do we just need to become more efficient in the way we produce food? See readers comments at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7905567.stm


India: Bt Cotton Increases Yields At Lower Cost

- K.V. Kurmanath, The Hindu Business Line Feb 24, 2009 http://www.thehindubusinessline.com

Hyderabad, Feb.23 Cotton farmers who adopt Bt cotton are able to cut cost of production, increase yields and raise net income, says a study. The study, a follow-up on work undertaken by researchers at the Centre for Economic and Social Sciences (CESS) has said the cost of production a quintal, which went down by 11 per cent in 2005, was lower by 31 per cent in 2006-07.

The study, done by Mr N. Chandrasekhara Rao and Prof S. Mahendra Dev (former CESS Director who heads the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices), covered four cotton growing districts of Warangal, Guntur, Kurnool and Nalgonda.

The survey found that the cost of production had come down by 31 per cent in 2006-07 from Rs 2,012 (non-Bt) to Rs 1,563 in Bt cotton, resulting in significant savings. One of the major contributors for this reduction was decrease in the number of ‘cocktail’ pesticide sprays. “The cotton yield has gone up by 32 per cent in 2004-05 in Bt cotton vis-À-vis non-Bt cotton. This increase was 42 per cent after adoption of Bt cotton in 2006-07,” the survey said.

It may be recalled that the survey done in 2005 had concluded that the net income, though still negative, had gone up in Bt cotton farmers when compared to their non-Bt peers. “We have found that the farmers are far more relieved now and are sure of harvesting some cotton.”

Impact on profitability
“Though Bt improved net income by 83 per cent, the farmers, both Bt and non-Bt farmers, could not cover all costs in 2004-05. Adverse weather causing 33 per cent lower rainfall in 2004-05 and a 21 per cent reduction in the farm harvest price are largely responsible for this situation then,” the survey said.

In 2006-07, the farmers, after adoption, could cover all costs. On an average, the farmer adopting the new technology got Rs 9,596 per acre of farm business income. This is three times more than before adoption, Mr Chandrasekhara Rao told Business Line.

The area under Bt cotton has increased from just 45,000 hectares in 2002-03 to an estimated 8 million hectares in 2008. The researchers, however, pointed out that doubts raised on biosafety should be addressed by establishing and standardising the testing procedures. Research on the environmental impact has to be stepped up.


Overreacting to Perceived Risks: Fear and Intimidation Distort the Accurate Assessment of Available Information

- Henry I. Miller, M.D. Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News Feb 15 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 4)

From rubber duckies and plastic bottles to pesticides used in agriculture, the world often seems full of lethal hazards. Many of these concerns are completely bogus, however, while most of the others represent only de minimis-that is, negligiblerisks. Moreover, the attention paid to them and the wrong-headed (and often very costly) actions taken to prevent or ameliorate them, can themselves, be harmful.

Misapprehensions about the magnitude of risks can lead to the squandering of societal resources. For example, the EPA's land disposal restrictions when toxins are present impose annual costs of approximately $205.5 million, in order to avoid 0.22 cases of cancer annually from groundwater contamination and 0.037 cases from air pollutionthat is, about one case of cancer every four yearsand $20 million annually from property damage.

Why are such misunderstandings common? One reason is the emotional dimension of concerns about a technology's potential risk to public health or the environment. A case in point is the use of the most precise, state-of-the-art gene-splicing technology to craft new varieties of microorganisms, plants, and animals, which has been abusively and excessively regulated by federal agencies.

As the government makes decisions about consumer products, fear and intimidation from several possible sources may distort the accurate assessment of risks, benefits, and possible alternatives. This can lead to decisions that are harmful from both an economic and humanitarian perspective. A better understanding of the emotional dimension can help health and food professionals, scientists, and opinion leaders to address largely emotional responses by the public and to make better decisions.

Several factors that can affect the perception of risks have been prominent in various controversies about biotechnologyamong these factors are uncertainty and ambiguity, information overload, splitting and projection, desire to return to a childlike world of purity and innocence, manipulation of environmental anxieties, and informational cascades.

Uncertainty and Ambiguity. Studies of risk perception have shown that people tend to overestimate risks that are unfamiliar, hard to understand, invisible, involuntary, and/or potentially catastrophicand vice versa. Thus, they tend to underestimate risks that are relatively clear and comprehensible in their nature, such as using a chainsaw or riding a motorcycle, while they overestimate invisible threats such as electromagnetic radiation or trace amounts of pesticides in foods, which inspire uncertainty and fear. Contributing to these emotions may be poor scientific literacy in general and unfamiliarity with the statistical aspects of risk in particular. For example, exactly what does it imply for an individual if we learn that eating a high fat diet increases the probability of bowel cancer by 15-20%? Is that a big risk?

In the case of new biotechnology, several factors are at work. First, among nonexperts, there is sparse knowledge of the long, safe history of conventional biotechnology, or older techniques of genetic engineering, to produce vaccines, enzymes, and antibiotics, as well as virtually all of our domesticated crops. In fact, unless you're restricted to a diet limited to wild berries, wild mushrooms, wild game, fish, and shellfish, it's virtually impossible to get through a day without eating food that has been genetically engineered.

Second, when genetic engineering moves genes between organisms, some people fear that somehow it disturbs evolutionary sanctity or the natural order of things. Also, many do not understand the concept of alternative risks; for example, although there are theoretical risks of using biocontrol agents to eliminate plant pests, there are real and nontrivial risks of not using themnamely, the need to rely on chemical pesticides or to endure vast losses of crops.

Information Overload. At best, nonexperts are likely to understand only a limited number of aspects of a risk-analysis problem, and they are easily overloaded with data. Information overload of the public is a strategy often used by those who would elicit fear about or disparage new technology. In one short diatribe on biotech-derived foods, for example, an antitechnology activist might address the consumer's right to know via product labeling, the vegetarian issue of fish genes introduced into tomatoes, the safety and socioeconomic issues of bovine growth hormone, and the alleged dangers of herbicide-resistant plants.

Antibiotechnology activists deluge the public with irrelevant, untrue, or partly true information that leaves the nonexpert bewildered, and this can lead to snap decisions and poor judgment.

Splitting and Projection. A common response to fear and uncertainty is to split those involved in controversy into opposite campsus vs. themand to project onto them culpability and iniquitous intentions. Psychologically, this is an attempt to reduce anxiety and to reimpose certainty and clarity. These defense mechanisms may be activated especially easily when the enemy is painted as faceless, profit-hungry, amoral, multinational companies that will benefit handsomely from the sale of products. But such mechanisms are unproductive, because they polarize thinking and actually distort sound decision making.

Desire to Return to a Childlike World of Purity and Innocence. This romantic, puerile view of the physical world, reflecting a wish to escape from complex realities and choices, can give rise to a kind of puritanical, antitechnological view of the world. Purity and simplicity become desired ends in themselves, to the exclusion of other goals such as feeding and sheltering the inhabitants of the planet.

Manipulation of Environmental Anxieties. The hidden agenda of many of those who promote the greening of American society and governmentenvironmental organizations, political leaders, and the mediais their own self-interest. But a by-product of their disinformation is progressively more widespread acceptance of junk science. Clouding the public's understanding of the development of new, biotechnology-derived varieties of crop plants, certain environmental organizations and the media have raised misinformation to an art form. What has been lost is the ability to discriminate between plausibility and reality.

Informational cascades. "The wisdom of crowds," the belief that collective sound judgement trends toward the right answer and is superior to the predictions of individualseven expert individualsis a popular idea. But there is an opposing force at work as well: "informational cascades," which occur when individuals are swayed by knowing the views of others which may be incorrect. A corollary of this phenomenon has been captured by an old inside-the-Beltway quip, "Anything said three times becomes a fact."

Many informational cascades give rise to erroneous conclusions even if most people started out knowing better. This helps to explain why so many peopleincluding policymakers and opinion leadershave misapprehensions about the risks of products or technologies such as biotechnology, nuclear power, and chemicals.

What, then, are the take-home lessons for health and food professionals and scientists who need to communicate the risks and benefits of new products or processes?

First, while emotional responses to questions of technological risk may be inevitable, they can and should be tempered with knowledge.

Second, that knowledge needs to be imparted in a way that is scrupulously honest but also simple enough to be understood. Concrete examples, especially relevant historical analogies, are often useful.

Third, in both public forums and (especially) as advisors to government, experts should insist on the inextricable linkage between science and public policy. At every opportunity, they should reinforce the importance of science and the scientific methodfor science is organized knowledge, and knowledge is power.

Fourth, there has been far too much tolerance of outright misrepresentation and mendacity in what are fundamentally scientific dialogues. Far too often, government policymakers have welcomed anti-technology activists to their advisory committees, hearings, conferences, and bosoms. (An example is USDA's Advisory Committee on Biotechnology & 21st Century Agriculture, which boasts an astonishing array of antibiotechnology ideologues and activists and organic food advocates who have a blatant conflict of interest. The selection of this committee is outright malfeasance by USDA officials.) Often, bureaucrats use the high-profile demands of antiscience groups to justify extremeand unnecessaryregulatory nostrums. This strategy has been perfected by the EPA.

Although freedom of expression and vigorous debate are conducive to science and science policymaking, we must distinguish science from pseudoscience. Organizers of academic conferences on evolutionary genetics do not, after all, invite Creationists; and applied-physics meetings do not include sessions on the newest designs for perpetual-motion machines.

There are also well-intentioned members of the academic, government, industrial, and nonprofit communities who would attempt rational public dialogue with biotech's antagonists, but I advise against it. The hidden agenda of many of these activists is to impose their will over others' and to dictate what scientific research may be done, how it may be done, and which types of products may be produced and marketed.

Whether the issue is the use of a new agricultural technology or chemical, or the siting of an oil refinery or nuclear power plant, knowledge is power-the power to avoid the tyranny of small, vocal groups of zealous activists.


GM Crops Aid Food Security

- Wilma den Hartigh, www.MediaClubSouthAfrica.com, Feb 25, 2009

South Africa's adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops continues to expand at an impressive rate. According to Dr Kobus Laubscher, CEO of Grain SA, this is an important development for sustainable food production in South Africa.

The challenge for agricultural production is to keep up with population growth and demand. "We have to produce more food, and applying the technology means that we can increase production on fewer hectares of land available," Laubscher said.

South Africa has maintained an impressive eighth position in the world ranking of biotech crop countries, planting more than 1.8-million hectares of genetically modified crops. A survey funded by the Maize Trust indicated that in 2008 GM maize plantings in South Africa increased by 10 000 hectares, even with an almost eight percent decline in commercial maize area planted. Soya beans increased by 40 000 hectares and cotton by 2000 hectares.

Laubscher also pointed out that farmers have adopted the technology for profit as well as improved production. A Maize Trust study found that 15-million tons of GM maize was produced on 4.2-million hectares from 2000 to 2008. Calculated at an average yield increase benefit of 10.6 percent and using average annual grain prices over the period, maize farmers gained an additional income of R2-billion.

Smallholder and resource-poor farmers are also benefiting. GM maize produced a 31 percent higher yield than conventional maize and 134 percent more than conventional open-pollinated varieties.

Benefits outweigh the disadvantages
Although there is a certain amount of resistance to GM products, the benefits outweigh the perceived disadvantages. Laubscher said every year 40-million South Africans, in one way or another, consume GM food without a single medical or scientifically-substantiated adverse effect on humans, animals or the environment.

There are in fact a number of proven environmental and health benefits. According to a report released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, biotech crops also resulted in reducing pesticide use by 359 000 tons of active ingredient.

GM production gains of 32-million metric tons in 2007 would have required 10-million extra hectares, had biotech crops not been used. Production gains from biotech crops between 1996 and 2007 were 141-million tons. At 2007 average yields, this would have required 43-million additional hectares without biotech crops.

Other advanced biotech research in South Africa includes: drought tolerant and streak virus resistance in maize, biofortied GM sorghum, increased insect and herbicide resistant maize, tuber moth and virus resistant potatoes, drought-tolerant soybeans and groundnuts and maize with tolerance to two herbicides.


U.S. Wheat Farmers Want Biotech Wheat

- Carey Gillam, Reuters, Feb 26, 2008

A large number of U.S. wheat growers would embrace genetically altered wheat to help them combat a range of crop problems and keep wheat competitive with other crops, according to a survey by the National Association of Wheat Growers.

More than three-quarters of wheat growers responding to the recent NAWG survey approved a petition supporting the commercialization of biotechnology in wheat, the organization said on Thursday. NAWG CEO Daren Coppock said the goal of the survey was to demonstrate to technology providers that the industry is ready to back the introduction of genetically altered wheat, a controversial idea in many areas of the world.

The survey was mailed in January and February to about 21,000 producers with more than 500 acres of wheat and 1,000 acres in total production. About 32 percent of the producers have responded so far, with 76 percent of those in favor of the petition for biotech wheat.


India: Mahyco Gets Ready to go Commercial for Bt Rice, Wheat


The Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco in short), specialized in genetically modified (GM) crops, is all set to go commercial with the Bt varieties of staple crops such as rice, wheat and some vegetables in India. The company is expecting green signal for the commercial cultivation of bio-technologically-improved variety of brinjal (Bt brinjal) from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Union Ministry of Environment. After Bt cotton, brinjal is the second crop in India that is likely to be approved bt the GEAC commercial cultivation. Out of the 5.5 lakh acres under brinjal in India, about 60% is expected to be under hybrid varieties soon. Among other vegetables, Mahyco is targeting bhindi, chillies and tomato as having good potential for commercial cultivation.

Bt rice, work on which began in 2002-03, is now expected to be granted approval by the GEAC soon, according to Dr Usha Barwale Zehr, joint director, Mahyco. "In fact, we hope to have approval for the Bt wheat as well Farmers in North India are eager to adopt new wheat cultivation technologies," she added.


European Union - GM Food Debate


A meeting of EU biotech experts ended in deadlock yesterday (25 February) after failing to agree on whether to allow more cultivation of genetically-modified crops, which are hugely controversial in Europe.

The applications for two GM maize types will now be sent to EU ministers for a decision. The GM maize types considered at the meeting were Bt-11 maize, engineered by Switzerland's Syngenta, and 1507 maize, jointly developed by Pioneer Hi-Bred International (a unit of DuPont Coand Mycogen Seeds) and a unit of Dow AgroSciences.

"This decision only adds to our frustration," said Syngenta in a statemen " Today's long-awaited vote could have marked a watershed for the current slow and highly-politicised approach to authorising biotech crops in Europe" "Farmers have been growing Bt11 maize safely and successfully for over 10 years in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, the Philippines, Uruguay and the United States," the company added.

New modified crops for cultivation are the most contentious GM issue in Europe, and none have been approved since 1998. However, a string of modified products have been approved for import since 2004 for use in food and animal feed. "1507 maize has been grown commercially around the world since 2003 without any negative impacts on the environment, food safety or consumer health," Dow said in a statement.

"We regret that member states failed to cast a deciding vote based on the scientific evidence and common sense," it added.

But environment group Greenpeace said the stalemate reflected the need to tweak the EU's process for authorising GM crops, something already recommended by environment ministers. "The Commission has utterly ignored these recommendations," said Greenpeace campaigner Marco Contiero. "The concerns of EU citizens on GMOs can no longer be ignored." "EU member states have every right to maintain total control over what is grown on their own territory until the recommendations for a review of the GMO process are taken seriously by the Commission," he added.

While diplomats say approving a new GM crop for growing is almost impossible in the EU's current climate, if ministers also fail to agree, the applications would then return to the Commission. If that happens, the Commission would - probably - end up issuing standard ten-year licences by default. But that may take some time.


Nigeria: Stakeholders Urge NASS to Pass the Biosafety Bill

- Alabi Williams, Nigeria Guardina, Feb 22, 2009 http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/

To ensure food security and improve earnings from agro and allied services, stakeholders have urged the National Assembly to put together a regulatory framework that would oversee the policy and practice of biotechnology. A biotechnology bill is now before the National Assembly. The bill, according to Hon. Gbenga Makanjuola, Chairman House Committee on Agriculture was to have been mentioned two weeks ago, for its first reading. According to him, the potentials of biotechnology are immense, as it can enhance food security, wealth creation and environmental sustainability.

Makanjuola said, "the vision of Nigeria's biosafety is to ensure that the practice of modern biotechnology are undertaken within the scope of a regulatory system that will guarantee its safe application protect Nigeria's biodiversity and minimise or eliminate its risk to human health and the environment. To accomplish this vision, all hands must be on deck by relevant stakeholders, by lending support to biosafety in this country."

Efforts to put in place a regulatory framework for the practice of biotechnology have been in the works since the 1990s. According to Rufus Ebegba of the Ministry of Environment, government has for a long time shown interest at taking measures to guarantee food, environmental and medical security for the populace.

Government had also shown interest in tapping into modern biotechnology, genetically modified organisms and their products, by joining the league of nations that are interested in such development and their adverse effect on the people and the environment. Thus, government signed the Cartagena Protocol On Biosafety (CPB), a protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2000 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Its instrument of ratification was signed on November 30, 2002. The protocol was designed to ensure adequate protection in the transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms in case of adverse effects, taking into consideration risks to human health on trans-border movements.


Genetically Engineered Crop Produce Is Not Potentially More Allergenic Than the Counterparts

C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India; February 26, 2009. Excerpted below. Full blog at http://www.plantbiotechblog.com/2009/02/genetically-engineered-crop-produce-is-not-potentially-more-allergenic-than-the-counterparts.html

Risk of allergy from genetically engineered (GE) crops and foods is projected as a major biosafety issue, stemming from baseless allegations, rooted in two, but now irrelevant cases.

A gene for the Brazil nut protein was introduced into soybean to increase the content of methionine, an essential amino acid which the human body does not synthesize. The serum from people allergic to Brazil nuts cross-reacted with extracts of transgenic soybean and not with extracts of its isogenic, which links the problem to Brazil nut proteins, and not the soybean. Though no one actually developed allergy by eating the transgenic soybean that was never released for public consumption, since the transgenic is likely to affect people who are allergenic to Brazil nuts, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the developer of the product, did not proceed with it, an example of self-regulation.

Transgenic crop varieties are substantially equivalent to their isogenics, except for the protein coded by the transgene. The risk of allergy needs to be considered when a GE food or drug contains new protein(s), coded by the introduced genes, but not present in the isogenic variety. For example, the Bt protein in the Bt potato tuber is new. Now this protein is known to be safe for human consumption. Similarly, the iron carrier protein ferritin, whose gene from bean or soybean is being introduced into rice to enhance its iron content, is not allergenic.

If a gene product in the non-transgenic (isogenic) variety were an allergen, it would be so in the transgenic as well. Proteins that are normally not allergenic will not suddenly become allergens in a transgenic plant. Whether a particular protein is allergenic or not depends more on the consuming individuals rather than on the protein itself. This makes identification of allergenic proteins quite tricky. The remote possibility that Bt crop foods might sporadically cause allergenic reactions in a few individuals, in spite of voluminous evidence to the contrary, cannot be the reason to dump the whole technology which is otherwise beneficial in a number of ways.

It is near impossible to test for all the antigens and haptens in a product for the potential of allergy. Even so, scientists have not been complacent and every new protein in a transgenic food or feed is examined for allergenicity. In fact, among all the foods we consume, the GE foods are the most thoroughly tested for allergenicity and toxicity.

Concern for public safety is very essential, but spreading fear on political compulsions, exploiting ignorance, is scare mongering. What we need is a rational attitude with concern for the larger benefits for the larger sections of the society and not irrational blanket bans on whole technologies. No one ever said that the production of any of the large number of conventional foods known to cause severe allergies in a few people should be stopped.


New Video "Knowledge, Technology and Alleviation of Poverty"

This ISAAA video presents the major findings of the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2008 and addresses the growing interest biotech crops have experienced in the past years, including substantial advances in Africa.

The Video discusses in detail the three questions global society has begun to ask about biotech crops. First, can they contribute to more affordable food? Second, can they help mitigate climate change and contribute to sustainability? And finally, can they contribute to global food security and the alleviation of poverty? ISAAA believes that answer to each of these questions is unequivocally yes.



Fungal and Mycotoxin Contamination in Bt Maize and Non-Bt Maize Grown in Argentina

- G. Barros, et al. World Mycotoxin Journal, Vol. 2(1), Pages 53-60; February 2009

A Bt maize hybrid and its non-transgenic counterpart harvested during 2002/2003 and 2003/2004 harvest seasons from different locations within the maize-growing area in Argentina were compared for fungal and mycotoxin contamination. Fusarium species were the most prevalent on both genotypes with an isolation frequency >60% across all locations. The percentage of infection was lower in Bt maize than in non-Bt maize (P<0.05).

There were no statistical differences in infection percentage due to genotype, fungicide treatment and their interactions. Fumonisins were detected in all of the samples from all locations and genotypes. Total fumonisin levels (fumonisins B1, B2 and B3) in the Bt and the non-Bt hybrid were significantly different (P<0.001), with lower toxin levels in the Bt maize in all locations but one evaluated during the two harvest season. There was no significant difference in deoxynivalenol levels between Bt and non-Bt maize. Application of the fungicide tebuconazole did not alter either the infection or the toxin levels in the Bt and non-Bt maize hybrid.


Expansion of Biotech Crop Plantings in 2008

- Ross Korves . Truth about Trade, Feb. 19, 2009 http://www.truthabouttrade.org

Continued expansion in the worldwide acreage of biotech crops is the result of economic and political forces. Farmers adopt them to increase yields and/or lower costs and government regulators in more countries accept them as safe as real world experiences confirm what scientists have reported for almost two decades. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agro-biotech Applications (ISAAA) in its “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2008” estimates that acreage planted to biotech crops increased 9 percent in 2008 to 308.8 million acres, 16.1 percent of the 1.92 billion acres of crops in the 25 countries that grow approved biotech crops.

Three countries officially grew biotech crops for the first time in 2008. Bolivia had 1.5 million acres of biotech soybeans, 63 percent of the soybeans in the country, making it the tenth largest biotech country in acres grown and the ninth country in Latin American producing biotech crops. Bolivia is know for growing corn at high altitudes, but it is also the world’s eight largest soybean producing country in its eastern region next to Brazil and Paraguay growing soybeans much like is done in its larger producing neighbors.

The other two new countries, Burkina Faso and Egypt, are much different. Burkina Faso grew 21,000 acres of biotech cotton for seed multiplication and commercial use and is one of four West African countries heavily dependent on cotton production. South Africa is the only other sub-Saharan country with biotech crops. Burkina Faso and its neighbors need to improve cotton production to meet competition from developing countries like India and Brazil. Egypt grew 1,700 acres of biotech corn. It has growing livestock and poultry industries and imports 4-5 million metric tons of corn each year.

Three African countries had major breakthroughs on regulations. The National Assembly of Mali, a neighbor of Burkina Faso, passed a National Biosafety Law in November of last year. Kenya in East Africa passed a biosafety law in December that was recently signed by the President which creates the legal framework for adoption of biotech crops. Kenya has done research on biotech crops in recent years and has often been seen as on the verge of commercial production. In July of 2008 the Cabinet in Malawi in southwest Africa approved a National Biotechnology Policy based on their Biosafety Act of 2002 to provide regulations for biotech crops.

Regulatory progress has also been made in other countries. Australia, which has grown biotech cotton since 1996, finally produced 23,000 acre of biotech canola after years of delays. Brazil has expanded beyond biotech soybean and cotton to include 3.2 million acres of biotech corn. India’s 23 percent growth in biotech cotton acreage to 18.8 million acres moved it into fourth place in the world just ahead of Canada.

The U.S. produced biotech sugar beets for the first time with 640,000 acres, 59 percent of the sugar beet area. The U.S. continued to shift to more double and triple stacked traits for corn and cotton that combine herbicide tolerance with one or more insect resistance traits. These accounted for 75 percent of biotech cotton acreage and 78 percent of biotech corn acreage. In 2010 release is expected for a corn with eight biotech traits, called Smartstax, to provide multiple insect resistant and herbicide tolerant traits. Attention is increasingly focused on drought tolerant corn in the U.S. that is expected to be available in 2012.

The authors of the ISAAA report believe that a drought tolerant corn may be available in sub-Saharan Africa by 2017. A public/private partnership is already working on the project. It is viewed as the most important trait to become available in the second decade of biotech crops because drought is “the single most important constraint to increased productivity for crops worldwide.”

Even in the EU acreage of biotech crops continued to increase. Spain remained the leader with 196,000 acres of biotech corn in 2008. Other EU countries with biotech corn included the Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal, Germany, Poland and Slovakia. France had previously grown biotech corn, but President Sarkozy banned its production. The ban by France and one by Greece may be overturned by the EU based on the recent deadlock of experts on the issue. A vote in coming weeks may also allow two other biotech corn varieties to be grown in the EU.

The biggest non-event for biotech crops was the continued stalling of biotech rice in China which has been ready for commercialization for at least four years. Biotech rice could help 110 million rice growing households in China and another 140 million households in the rest of Asia who grow an average of 1.25 acres of rice and live on incomes as low as $1 per day.

Poverty is not unique to rice growers. Fifty percent of the world poorest people are limited-resource farmers and another 20 percent live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for income. The World Bank estimates that 2.2 billion rural people live in countries where national economic growth is not possible without a productivity revolution among small, limited-resource farmers. They could benefit as 12.3 million limited-resource farmers in developing countries have already benefited from the higher yields and/or lower inputs costs associated with biotech crops.

Politics and economics have for centuries driven opportunities for farmers around the world. Those forces aligned to allow for biotech crops to help move millions of people up the economic ladder in 2008. The same should happen again in 2009.


Scholarships available for Latin American journalists

Latin American journalists who cover health, the environment and science have until April 27 to apply for an Ealy scholarship, which will include participation in the Jack F. Ealy workshop on science journalism, scheduled for July 7 to 16 in California, United States.

The workshop organized by the Institute of the Americas will consist of two main components: instructions in research areas including biodiversity, renewable energies, genetically modified food, pharmaceuticals and infectious diseases; and hands-on workshops led by science journalists on informative and compelling writing techniques for reporting complex science news.