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March 3, 2009


Randomly Against Biosciences; Global Climate Change; Gates Funding for Drought-Proof Maize; Don't Believe the Greenwash


* Randomly against Biosciences
* Crop Genetic Engineering Under Global Climate Change
* Africa: Bill Gates to Fund $47m Anti-drought GM Maize Study
* Biosafety Decisions and Perceived Commercial Risks: Role of GM-Free Standards
* Calls for Renewed U.S. Leadership in the Fight Against Global Hunger and Poverty
* Successes and Failures with Ag Biotech in Developing Countries in the Past
* New Book: Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Crops
* Holland: GM Work Boosts Apple Disease Resistance
* India: Scientists to Develop Hybrid Cotton Varieties At Lower Cost
* Socio-economic Impacts of Non-GM Biotechnologies: Micropropagation
* Inconvenient Truths: Don't Believe the Greenwash
* Panel of Experts List Top 30 Innovations of the Past 30 Years

Randomly against Biosciences

- Thomas Deichmann, Novo, Feb. 24, 2009 (Original in German; Text below
translated by Jens Katzek of BIO Mitteldeutschland GmbH ) http://www.novo-argumente.com/magazin.php/novo_notizen/artikel/000116

The protests against modern biotechnologies are getting more and more absurd: A recent demonstration, which took place in Vienna backed the Austrian government's position against Green Biotechnology. Vienna has obstructed the cultivation of genetically engineered plants for years, even though this is legal according to EU-law. In a voodoo-like appeal, genetic engineering is linked with "a drastic increase in allergies and cancer".

Over here in Germany, the anti-GM-activist Vandana Shiva tours the country again. Once again, green NGOs form to spread the "resistance" over the whole country – this time starting in Bavaria. The Bavarian government has recently announced, to put even more obstacles in the way for the cultivation of genetically modified crops. "Policymakers who are still keen enough to support corporations such as Monsanto and BASF have to be wiped away", the fear industry's newsletters read.

Lately, such exclamations shows the absurdity of the whole attitude. Because government officials, backing a progressive attitude towards crop breeding have become exotic in Germany a long time ago. More than ten years ago, the (Green) Federal Minster of Agriculture, Renate Künast has turned GM technologies into a projection surface for irrational anxiety and anti-americanism. Her successor, the Christian Democrat Horst Seehofer kept these principles, because he realized quickly, how easy Bavarian crackerbarrels can be conquered with hollow greenish slogans. Now Ilse Aigner, also Christian Democrat, followed Seehofer to the Federal Ministry for Agriculture, being quick to announce, to review this year's Bt-corn cultivation anew, just because GM-technology had "no significant benefit for the people in this country".

This issue serves, however, a political class turned-green very well, whose own impotence to serve our common weal with reason and foresight only results in the preaching of misanthropy and the mobilisation of romantic rural emotions, of which one could only have hoped that these are a thing of the past for ever. Lately, even the neo-fascist NPD fancied the multipartisan vindication of the native soil against the modern American seed.

But what is taking place here, has nothing to do with a "national uprising", which some media already suspected. And to just reproach populism misses also the point and sounds like a compliment to the political class. The currently celebrated stupor does neither know a programmatic goal nor any other aim. Not even the organized green free riders have a vague clue, where they are headed with their agenda. The current situation foremostly shows the degree of decay in the political apparatus and some parts of our political culture. The hypocrisy of politics expresses itself in hints, one has to mind the will of the "consumer". But perhaps this new escalation in the battlefield of green GM technology will draw the few remaining agents of progress out?

This remains to be seen.

Anyone who is interested in the situation of plant biotechnology, may consult the moderate, objective and well-read websites of http://www.BioSicherheit.de and http://www.Transgen.de


Crop Genetic Engineering Under Global Climate Change

- Rodomiro Ortiz, Annals of Arid Zone 47(3&4): 1-12, 2008 (Via Plant Breeding News)

Climate change may bring an increased intensity and frequency of storms, drought and flooding, weather extremes, altered hydrological cycles, and precipitation. Such climate vulnerability will threaten the sustainability of farming systems, particularlyin the developing world. Stress tolerant bred-germplasm, coupled with sustainable crop and natural resource management as well as sound policy interventions will provide means for farmers to cope with climate change and benefit consumers worldwide.

This article reviews advances in genetic engineering for improving traits such as heat tolerance, water productivity, and better use of nutrients that may enhance crop adaptation to the changing climate of the twenty-first century.


Africa: Bill Gates to Fund $47m Anti-drought GM Maize Study

- Halima Abdallah K The East African, Feb 28, 2009 http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke via Agnet

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G Buffett Foundation are to sponsor a five-country study on a drought-resistant maize variety to a tune of $47 million. The five-year research programme, to be carried out through the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, will kick off in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique and Uganda under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) project in June.

Wema is a public /private partnership led by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre. The first batch of conventional varieties developed by Wema should be available after six to seven years of research, while transgenetic drought-tolerant maize hybrids are expected to be available in 10 years’ time.

It is estimated that maize products developed over the next 10 years could increase yields by 20 to 35 per cent under moderate drought compared with current varieties. This should translate into an additional two million tonnes of maize during drought years, capable of feeding about 21 million people.

The Maize and Wheat Centre will conventionally develop, drought-tolerant high-yielding maize varieties that adapt to African conditions. It will also provide expertise in conventional breeding and testing for drought tolerance, while Monsanto will provide proprietary germplasm, advanced breeding tools expertise and drought tolerant transgenes.

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation will be in charge of any drought tolerant maize variety developed through this project. The foundation will identify local seed multipliers to make the seed available to smallholder African farmers at the regular price of maize seed without royalty. Farmers will also have the right to keep their harvested maize for replanting if they wish.

During the research, the experts will also carry out soil analysis and explore irrigation alternatives. A separate study on pest-resistant maize variety is going on in Kenya. In addition to planting drought-resistant varieties, the farmers will also use fertilisers to improve their yield. They will be encouraged to train in pest control and disease management and access markets to sell their surplus.

To ensure safety of the project, the activities would comply with international regulatory and scientific authorities, established laws and regulatory procedures in each country.


Biosafety Decisions and Perceived Commercial Risks: The Role of GM-Free Private Standards

- Guillaume Gruère and Debdatta Sengupta, IFPRI, February 2009

We herein investigate the observed discrepancy between real and perceived commercial risks associated with the use of genetically modified (GM) products in developing countries. We focus particularly on the effects of GM-free private standards set up by food companies in Europe and other countries on biotechnology and biosafety policy decisions in food-exporting developing countries.

Based on field visits made to South Africa, Namibia, and Kenya in June 2007, and secondary information from the press and various publications, we find 31 cases of interactions between private GM-free standards and biosafety policy decisions in 21 countries. Although we cannot infer the direct involvement of supermarkets and food companies in biosafety policy processes in developing countries, we find that by setting up GM-free standards, these actors are indirectly influential via their local traders, who face the possibility of exclusion if they do not comply with the standards. Organic producers' and anti-GM organizations also play a role in spreading perceptions of commercial risks that are not always justified.

By comparing cases, we differentiate three types of relevant commercial risks: real risks, potential risks, and unproven risks. We then identify two critical, yet misleading, presumptions perpetuated by the various interest groups to spread the fear of potential or unproven risks: the infeasibility of non-GM product segregation and the lack of alternative buyers. We also find that information asymmetries and risk-averse behaviors related to perceived market power can help insert unfounded export concerns into biosafety or biotechnology policy decisions. The results of our analysis are used to suggest a simple framework to separate real commercial risks from others, based on five critical questions designed to aid decision makers when they face pressures to reject GM crop testing, application, consumption or use for fear of alleged export losses.

Download paper at http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/dp/ifpridp00847.asp


Calls for Renewed U.S. Leadership in the Fight Against Global Hunger and Poverty


A bipartisan group of foreign policy and development leaders convened by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs called today for a renewed U.S. commitment to alleviating global poverty through agricultural development in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the two regions with more than 700 million of the world's poorest people, most of them small farmers and their families.

The group's report, Renewing American Leadership in the Fight Against Global Hunger and Poverty: The Chicago Initiative on Global Agricultural Development, includes five recommendations and more than 20 specific action items for how the United States, through increased agricultural development assistance and partnerships at home and abroad, could help achieve the Millennium Development Goals and restore the United States as a force for positive change in the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs initiated the project to provide the incoming U.S. administration and 111th Congress with an objective assessment of the risks posed by rural poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The report focuses on small farms and the role of women in farm families in bringing about change. It identifies opportunities for the United States to work with governments and other institutions in Africa and South Asia to increase productivity, market access, and incomes for small farmers in these regions. The proposed recommendations can be implemented at a modest cost, with the first year expenditures estimated at $340 million, compared to $83 million now spent on these activities in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

"While our country and many others face daunting financial challenges this year, we must not turn our backs on helping people in the poorest countries acquire one of life's most basic necessities – food," said project co-chair Dan Glickman, former U.S. secretary of agriculture. "This is an expression of America's basic values and vital interests. There is no better way at very affordable cost to reinvigorate U.S. international leadership and strengthen America's image in the developing world. We have the knowledge and technology to solve this problem; what has been lacking is the political resolve."

The project finds that, at a time when global food emergencies are occurring with greater frequency and severity, an unacceptably small percentage of U.S. and international development assistance is committed to improving agricultural productivity in the poorest countries, and helping these nations produce enough food and farm-based income to escape from poverty.

"Hunger and poverty are inextricably linked and the source of many other problems in developing countries such as disease and social dislocation," said project co-chair Catherine Bertini, former executive director of the UN World Food Program. "It is truly amazing how smallholder farms and rural communities in Africa and Asia will flourish when women, who do a large portion of the agriculture work, have access to key inputs such as land, credit, relevant technologies, and all levels of education. By supporting the work of African and Asian partners and engaging U.S. universities, NGOs, and companies, we can help spur a second Green Revolution and reduce poverty."

More than 700 million people who survive on less than $1 per day live in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In spite of this, the United States only spends 4 percent of its total development assistance on agricultural development. The report argues that there must be a government-led strategy to significantly increase investment in the key areas of global agricultural development where the United States holds great advantage – research, education, and infrastructure – and to help nations in Africa and South Asia to achieve their goals of alleviating rural poverty and related hunger.

The Chicago Council's report outlines five recommendations, with 21 action items, for how the United States can provide the necessary leadership to revitalize the international fight against global hunger and poverty. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, increased investments in agricultural research could help more than 270 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia lift themselves out of poverty by 2020.

Major recommendations include:

· increased agricultural education and extension at all levels,

· greater funding for agricultural research,

· more emphasis on expanding rural and agricultural infrastructure,

· reform of U.S. institutions that deliver agricultural development assistance, and their interactions with international institutions focused on agricultural development assistance, and

· reform of U.S. policies that discourage agricultural development abroad.

"The Council was honored to work with an impressive team that was able to build a fresh and realistic blueprint for how the U.S. can play a key role in addressing this global humanitarian challenge," said Marshall M. Bouton, president of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. "We also know that the American public is supportive of a greater U.S. commitment to the leaders' group proposals, as a 2008 Council survey found that 74 percent of Americans said they wanted the United States to 'provide renewed international leadership' specifically to increase agricultural productivity in poor countries. It is the right time to implement the group's suggested reforms."

This project was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


Successes and Failures with Ag Biotech in Developing Countries in the Past

- FAO Biotechnology Forum; e-mail conference, April 20 to May 17, 2009 http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp

The aim of the e-mail conference is to analyse past experiences of applying different agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries, to document and discuss what has succeeded or failed and to determine and evaluate the key factors that were responsible for their success or failure.

As usual, the conference is open to everyone, is free and will be moderated. To join the Forum (and also register for the conference), send an e-mail to mailserv@mailserv.fao.org leaving the subject blank and entering the following text on two lines
subscribe BIOTECH-L
subscribe biotech-room4

For more information, contact biotech-mod4@fao.org


New Book: Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Crops

Edited by N Ferry, University of Newcastle; A Gatehouse,University of Newcastle; CABI, Hardback ; February 2009; ISBN: 9781845934095; 432 pages

The genetic modification of crops continues to be the subject of intense debate, and opinions are often strongly polarised. Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Crops addresses the major concerns of scientists, policy makers, environmental lobby groups and the general public regarding this controversial issue, from an editorially neutral standpoint.

While the main focus is on environmental impact, food safety issues, for both humans and animals are also considered. The book concludes with a discussion on the future of agricultural biotechnology in the context of sustainability, natural resource management and future global population and food supply.

Details and Intro plus sample chapter at http://www.cabi.org/bk_BookDisplay.asp?PID=2087


Holland: GM Work Boosts Apple Disease Resistance

- Brian Lovelidge, HorticultureWeek via checkbiotech.org

Apples are being genetically modified in the Netherlands to make them resistant to scab and in due course other diseases, too. The technique being used should be more acceptable to environmentalists and consumers because the resistance genes being used come from wild apple species rather than a foreign source.

This type of genetic modification, called cisgenesis, was described by Henk Schouten of Plant Research International, based at Wageningen University, at Agrovista's spring fruit meeting, which took place on 11 February at Ashford, Kent. He explained that with conventional breeding the production of scab-resistant varieties of good eating quality and suitability for commercial production takes as long as 50 years. This has been done using a crab apple, Malus floribunda, as the source of scab resistance. The trouble is that only one resistance gene is involved and in Holland this resistance has broken down within 10 years of the resistant variety being introduced.

The big advantages of cisgenesis, Schouten claimed, are that it is a much quicker process; several resistant genes can be used, making the breakdown of resistance unlikely; and the genes are inserted into the genomes of good-quality, established varieties, so no lengthy cross breeding is required to get commercially acceptable varieties.

Furthermore, as the production of resistant GM varieties takes only seven years, cisgenesis is potentially cheaper than the conventional approach. "Science now knows how to isolate genes (for resistance) and introduce them into the DNA of existing varieties," said Schouten. "Once we've got the right gene in our hands it will cost about EUR500,000 (£440,000) to get it into a variety."

However, he admitted that there is a potential problem in getting a cisgenesis variety approved by the EU Commission for commercial production. This is because EU laws do not differentiate between varieties containing genes introduced from foreign and same-species sources and to get a GM variety approved is very time-consuming and costs around EUR6.8m (£6m).

"We are proposing (lobbying for) much faster and more cost-effective approval for cisgenesis varieties by getting them exempted from the GM regulations," said Schouten. "In Holland this is supported by all political parties."


India: Scientists to Develop Hybrid Cotton Varieties At Lower Cost

- Jacob P. Koshy, livemint.com, March 2, 2009 via checkbiotech.org

NEW DELHI, India - Indian scientists plan to launch hybrid varieties of genetically modified cotton seeds at nearly one-third the price charged by most seed companies in the country, said a scientist on condition of anonymity.
The hybrids will be developed from a genetically modified variety of cotton—Bt Bikaneri Narma, which has been developed by a consortium of research institutions and universities, including the Central Institute for Cotton Research, or CICR, Nagpur, and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka.

Scientists will first release Bt Bikaneri Narma for the 2009 kharif season (June-September) and then release the hybrid varieties by the end of this year, after necessary approvals. Hybrid seeds of cotton are derived from Bt cotton varieties and both have their relative advantages and disadvantages. Hybrids are generally expensive and high-yielding, but force farmers to keep going back to seed companies for fresh seeds every year. Varieties are sturdier, cheaper and can be reused over three-four seasons but are low-yielding.

“When the hybrid variety is cleared, we are ready to take on competition from the private sector. The Bt hybrid we are developing would cost around Rs450 per 750g.” There are some 30 seed companies in the country that sell Bt cotton at a price ranging from Rs650-950 ($12.5 to $18.2) per 450g. Bt Bikaneri Narma, which is likely to cost only Rs260 ($5) for a 2kg packet, will be sold in some cotton-growing areas where hybrids don’t grow. “There are some rain-fed cotton regions such as parts of Vidharbha and central India where hybrids don’t work. Only (Bt cotton) varieties work there. Why should they be denied the benefits of Bt (cotton)?” asked K.R. Krathi, acting director, CICR.

The average yield of cotton has almost doubled in the past seven years, according to statistics from the ministry of agriculture and scientists and policymakers say this is largely on the back of transgenic, or Bt cotton. Nearly three-quarters of the area under cotton cultivation in India grows transgenic cotton, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a biotech industry-sponsored organization.

However, some seed companies don’t seem worried. M.K. Sharma, general manager, Mahyco Ltd, a Maharashtra-based seed company, said: “There’s always been price difference between seeds from government and the private sector. Ultimately, the farmers are the best judge of the performance of the crop. The very fact that Bt cotton has shown record acreages largely on the back of private suppliers is proof that we are price competitive.”


Socio-economic Impacts of Non-GM Biotechnologies: Micropropagation

- FAO-BiotechNews, http://www.fao.org/biotech

FAO's Research and Extension Division has just published "Socio-economic impacts of non-transgenic biotechnologies in developing countries: The case of plant micropropagation in Africa". The 75-page publication comprises three papers.

The first, by A. Sonnino and co-authors, discusses some approaches used in impact assessment of innovations and presents a general overview of the literature about the impacts of non-transgenic biotechnologies. The second, by Z. Dhlamini and co-authors, surveys the extent of micropropagation application in Gabon, Mali, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The third, by P. Warren and co-authors, reports the findings of two field studies, on micropropagation of banana in Uganda and of sweetpotato in Zimbabwe, aimed at better understanding the process of adoption of micropropagated planting materials and its impacts on livelihoods.

See http://www.fao.org/docrep/011/i0340e/i0340e00.htm
or contact charlotte.lietaer@fao.org to request a copy, providing your full postal address


Inconvenient Truths: Don't Believe the Greenwash

- Simon Usbone, Independent (UK), March 3, 2008 http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/inconvenient-truths-dont-believe-the-greenwash-1635867.html

So you drive a Prius, eat organic and boycott anything made in China – but will that help to fight climate change? Simon Usborne faces the facts many ecologists would rather ignore
Nature needs GM crops

The public image of genetically modified foods lies somewhere between that of asbestos and nuclear weapons. Think GM and many of us picture tomatoes being cloned in laboratories with nasty strip lights and bubbling test tubes, or campaigners in white suits tearing up "frankencrops" in fields of undisclosed location.

But for many of those pondering the future of food, GM doesn't evoke such horrors – it's the answer to a potential global crisis taking root in fields from Bedfordshire to Brazil. The price of feeding a global population of more than six billion is its huge environmental impact.

According to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agriculture – with all its chugging tractors, fertiliser production and farting cows – accounts for 14 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, throwing out tonnes of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. That's more than the world's cars, trucks, trains, ships and planes put together. In fact, UN figures suggest meat production alone churns out more greenhouse gases than transport.

An easy solution would be to reduce the posterior emissions of ruminants by eating less beef, but before we all go semi-veggie, perhaps we should give bioengineers, and their genetically modified carrots, a second chance. One third of agriculture's greenhouse emissions are caused by the production of nitrogen-based fertilisers. Some of the biggest names in GM are developing crops whose greater efficiency would mean higher yields for less fertiliser.

And it's not only in the food industry that GM could benefit the environment. Engineered corn would improve the efficiency of biofuels, which, thanks to the huge areas of land required to produce each barrel, and the energy required to run the mega-farms, frequently result in more carbon emissions than they save. Meanwhile scientists in Hawaii are engineering algae that "grows" biofuel, while in Boston a company is turning maize into plastic. And it doesn't stop there; scientists in Norwich have added the genes of snapdragon flowers to tomatoes to create a purple fruit rich in antioxidants which has been shown to stave off cancer in mice.

Almost 10 years ago, Sir Robert May, who was the Government's chief scientific adviser at the time, said people who were anti-GM displayed "the attitude of a privileged élite who think there will be no problem feeding tomorrow's growing population".
Organic farming doesn't add up
Organic must be good, right? Better food, free from nasty pesticides, packaged in recycled cardboard (preferably brown), with a bit of soil thrown in to confirm its wholesome provenance; better for us, better for the cows and chickens and lambs and fruit and veg, better for the planet.

Or have we been fooled by the virtuous glow of organic brands? There's a reason a kilo of organic carrots at the online supermarket Ocado costs £1.49 while a bag of standard carrots the same size costs 95p. Organic food is more expensive to farm. That's because, per acre, the yield is usually lower than for standard crops because organic fertilisers aren't as effective. And smaller farms are often less efficient in harvesting, processing, transporting and associated carbon emissions (see food miles).

Organically reared livestock provide less meat per acre, and their impact is greater than that of vegetables. According to the Department for Environment and Food, 75 per cent of the greenhouse gas methane on farms is emitted directly by ruminants – cattle and sheep. But feed for organic animals is higher in roughage and low in concentrates, resulting in higher methane output per beast. A study by Dr Andy Thorpe at the University of Portsmouth suggested that 200 cows emit the annual equivalent methane to a family car driven 111,850 miles.

Then there's the perception that to buy organic is to support the small farm down the lane. The food giants knew a good thing when they saw it (the UK organic industry is now worth £1.5bn a year) and, since the 1990s, they have invested heavily in small organic firms: Cadbury's gobbled up Green & Blacks, and Dean Foods, America's biggest dairy producer, gulped down Rachel's Organics.

So the organic principle is good in some ways – the taste of food, the lack of pesticides – but "organic is best" isn't always true.


Panel of Experts List Top 30 Innovations of the Past 30 Years

- Manoj Jasra, WebPro News, Feb. 17, 2009

To celebrate their three decades on the air, PBS’ Nightly Business Report teamed up with Knowledge@Wharton, the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, to select the 30 most important innovations from the last 30 years. The results are in, and the Internet reigns supreme.

The complete results:

30. Anti retroviral treatment for AIDS [Health Care]
29. SRAM flash memory [Electronics]
28. Stents Health [Care]
27. ATMs [Finance]
26. Bar codes and scanners [Retail]
25. Bio fuels [Biotechnology]
24. Genetically modified plants [Biotechnology]
5. DNA testing and sequencing/Human genome mapping [Biotechnology]
4. E-mail [Computer Science]
3. Mobile phones [Telecommunications]
2. PC/laptop computers [Computer Science]
1. Internet/broadband/WWW (browser and HTML) [Telecommunications]

Complete list at http://www.webpronews.com/blogtalk/2009/02/17/panel-of-experts-list-top-30-innovations-of-the-past-30-years