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July 1, 2009


Obstructing Forest Biotech; Deutsche Bank Calls for GM Boost; EU Says Corn is Safe; Truce In The Crop Wars; True Blue GM Rose


* Anti-biotech Groups Obstruct Forest Biotechnology
* Deutsche Bank Report: Projected Food, Energy Demands Seen to Outpace Production
* Monsanto GMO Corn Strain No Risk to Health - EU
* A Truce In The Crop Wars
* PBS Selects Judy Chambers at New Director
* India: Swapan Datta is New ICAR Deputy Director General
* Tropical Crop Biotechnology Conference
* ISAAA Video on "Knowledge, Technology and Poverty Alleviation" in 17 Languages
* McHughen and Goldberg Lectures on Agricultural Biotechnology from UCLA
* Biotech and Ag Development: Transgenic Cotton, Rural Institutions and Resource-poor Farmers
* FFA President: Specialization, Biotech are the Future of Ag
* True Blue GM Rose


Anti-biotech Groups Obstruct Forest Biotechnology

- Steven Strauss Oregon State University, June 30, 2009 http://www.eurekalert.org (For reprint: )

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- The potential of forest biotechnology to help address significant social and environmental issues is being "strangled at birth" by the rigid opposition of some groups and regulations that effectively preclude even the testing of genetically modified trees, scientists argue in a new report.

Steps must be taken to create a regulatory environment that considers genetically modified trees on a scientific, case-by-case basis, and is focused on the end product rather than the process, say researchers from Oregon State University, Carnegie Mellon University and other institutions in an article in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
Lacking that, the potential will be lost to use this powerful tool to create trees that grow faster, better resist drought or disease, restore threatened species, reduce costs, contribute to renewable energy, sequester carbon, improve environmental cleanup, and produce badly needed products for global consumers, the scientists said.

"This is a noose that's been slowly tightening for many years," said Steven Strauss, a distinguished professor of forest biotechnology at OSU, and one of the world's leaders in the application of genetic science to forestry.

"Everyone wants safe and responsible regulations that protect the environment," Strauss said. "But some extreme opponents who see anything that is genetically modified as a mortal sin are successfully putting in place details that will make it virtually impossible to move ahead with genetic modification in forestry or woody energy crops.

"They don't even want to see field research," Strauss said, "which is required for analysis of ecological effects as well as benefits, and they have been making strides toward shutting the indus try down."

Some major successes with biotechnology have taken place in crop agriculture, Strauss said, and because of the enormous benefits, that industry has learned to wade through the regulatory maze and bureaucratic hurdles in a number of countries, including the United States. By contrast, genetic modification studies in forest trees take longer, require work with more diverse species, and have larger environmental restrictions on research and application.

"Opponents are taking advantage of the well-intentioned but vague language in the Convention on Biological Diversity and the associated Cartagena Protocol to stimulate the imposition of regulations that make progress almost impossible," Strauss said. "They treat a small-scale research plot the same as use of a genetically-modified tree over an entire region."

And while earlier kinds of genetically modified trees almost exclusively contained genes from other species, many current advances are being made with native genes and natural growth processes, which are increasing as genomic science advances. No distinction is being allowed for that type of science, the researchers said.

The researchers said they believe that the convention has become a "platform for imposing broad restrictions on research and development of all types of transgenic trees regardless of their ecological and economic benefits."

This convention is one of the largest international treaties, first developed in 1992, and was initially designed to protect biodiversity, not preclude use of genetically modified organisms. "The activism against genetically modified trees through the Convention on Biological Diversity has been against all forms of genetic modification, regardless of the goals or environmental benefits sought," the researchers wrote in their report. "This activism has also been in direct opposition to widespread scientific and professional opinion from around the world, including from ecologists, that the trait, not the recombinant method, should be the focus of assessments."

Another key part of the problem, the researchers said, is finding enough scientists to participate in contentious and time-consuming debates where "the quality of scientific discussions tend to be extremely low and highly combative."

The researchers believe that major changes in the structure and interpretation of the treaty are required to prevent its continued misuse in ways that they argue "is clearly against its original spirit and intent."

Editor's Note: The full article in Nature Biotechnology can be found at this URL: http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v27/n6/full/nbt0609-519.html

A digital image of genetically modified trees is available at this URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33247428@N08/3654045233/


Projected Food, Energy Demands Seen to Outpace Production

- Terry Devitt, University of Wisconsin, June 25, 2009 http://www.news.wisc.edu/16856

With the caloric needs of the planet expected to soar by 50 percent in the next 40 years, planning and investment in global agriculture will become critically important, according a new report released today (June 25).

The report, produced by Deutsche Bank, one of the world's leading global investment banks, in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, provides a framework for investing in sustainable agriculture against a backdrop of massive population growth and escalating demands for food, fiber and fuel.

"We are at a crossroads in terms of our investments in agriculture and what we will need to do to feed the world population by 2050," says David Zaks, a co-author of the report and a researcher at the Nelson Institute's Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment.

By 2050, world population is expected to exceed 9 billion people, up from 6.5 billion today. Already, according to the report, a gap is emerging between agricultural production and demand, and the disconnect is expected to be amplified by climate change, increasing demand for biofuels, and a growing scarcity of water.

"There will come a point in time when we will have difficulties feeding world population," says Zaks, a graduate student whose research focuses on the patterns, trends and processes of global agriculture.

Although unchecked population growth will put severe strains on global agriculture, demand can be met by a combination of expanding agriculture to now marginal or unused land, substituting new types of crops, and technology, the report's authors conclude. "The solution is only going to come about by changing the way we use land, changing the things that we grow and changing the way that we grow them," Zaks explains.

The report notes that agricultural research and technological development in the United States and Europe have increased notably in the last decade, but those advances have not translated into increased production on a global scale. Subsistence farmers in developing nations, in particular, have benefited little from such developments and investments in those agricultural sectors have been marginal, at best.

The Deutsche Bank report, however, identifies a number of strategies to increase global agricultural productions in sustainable ways, including:

* Improvements in irrigation, fertilization and agricultural equipment using technologies ranging from geographic information systems and global analytical maps to the development of precision, high performance equipment.
* Applying sophisticated management and technologies on a global scale, essentially extending research and investment into developing regions of the world.
* Investing in "farmer competence" to take full advantage of new technologies through education and extension services, including investing private capital in better training farmers.
* Intensifying yield using new technologies, including genetically modified crops.
* Increasing the amount of land under cultivation without expanding to forested lands through the use of multiple cropping, improving degraded crop and pasturelands, and converting productive pastures to biofuel production.

"First we have to improve yield," notes Zaks. "Next, we have to bring in more land in agriculture while considering the environmental implications, and then we have to look at technology."
"Furthermore, the use of biotech crops will continue to be pursued by industry, government and investors. While the challenges in developing biotech crops require substantial research and development, and a robust regulatory environment, they offer great potential to substantially reduce water and fertilizer inputs, and increase productivity. We acknowledge the sensitivity of this issue and the accompanying complex ethical and social equity issues. And while this remains controversial and often seems to mirror the debate in power markets around nuclear energy – namely the safety issue, we believe that farmers, markets and governments in many regions faced with the enormity of the agricultural challenge will look at all available options including safe biotechnologies in crop science. "


Monsanto GMO Corn Strain No Risk To Health - EU

- Dow Jones, June 30, 2009

BRUSSELS (AFP)--A genetically modified strain of corn, banned in some European Union countries, poses no risk to health or the environment, the European Food Safety Authority declared Tuesday. The move will once again pit the European Commission, which supports use of the corn, against the member states, most of whom don't.

The Monsanto Co. (MON) MON810 corn "is as safe as its conventional counterpart with respect to potential effects on human and animal health", the independent risk assessor said after studying the strain. The European Food Safety Authority's GMO panel decided "the molecular characterization of the DNA insert" into the corn, which gives it its special insect-repellant quality, "doesn't raise any safety concern, and that sufficient evidence for the stability of the genetic modification was provided".

In April, Germany became the sixth E.U. nation to ban the genetically-modified corn produced by the U.S. biotech giant. A month earlier E.U. nations refused to force Austria and Hungary to allow the cultivation of the GMO corn - super resistant against insects - defying a call from the European Commission. France, Greece and Luxembourg have also banned cultivation of the GMO corn.

The case has upset Washington, which has warned Europe against using environmental issues as an excuse for protectionism amid disputes ranging from biotechnology to greenhouse gas emissions. A European Commission spokeswoman said the E.U. executive would analyze the new findings and then make a recommendation to the 27 member states.

However environmentalists Greenpeace took no time in complaining EFSA "has buried its head in the sand and ignored scientific evidence" on the negative effects of Monsanto's pesticide-producing GM corn on the environment.

The European Commission's "blind reliance on EFSA's flawed opinions is likely to anger member states who feel scientific concerns on GM corn aren't being addressed seriously," said Greenpeace E.U. GMO policy director Marco Contiero.

A four-year research project funded by the European Commission, the so-called Co-Extra report, declared early this month that genetically-engineered crops and conventional crops would have to be grown in segregated areas to meet environmental concerns about transgenic farming in Europe.

Given fields in Europe are relatively small, and winds can spread pollen from transgenic crops over large distances, co-existence of novel and traditional crops will only be possible if they are grown in "dedicated zones," it said.

Genetically-modified crops have a gene, or genes, inserted into them so they acquire traits useful to farmers. They are widely grown in North America, South America and China. But in Europe they have run into fierce resistance, led by green groups who say the crops carry risk through cross-pollination, potentially creating "super-weeds" that are impervious to herbicides.

Only a handful of genetically modified crop have been approved for cultivation in the E.U., but of them only the controversial MON810 maize strain is so far being grown, according to the European Commission. It was approved back in 1998.

When E.U. environment ministers in March refused to force countries to lift their ban on MON810 only the U.K., Estonia, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden supported the E.U. executive's bid.

A source close to the European Commission told AFP at the time of the German ban that it might bring a revision of the European legislation on GM crops.


A Truce In The Crop Wars

- Mac Margolis, Newsweek, June 27, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to the next green revolution. The world's biggest biotech corporations have deployed the latest in genetic science to pump up yield, ward off crop disease, make food more nutritious and fundamentally reengineer what we plant and eat, and no one is complaining. Environmental groups are not shouting about the perils of "Frankenfoods." There's no rabid French cheese maker with a bad mustache leading foodies on a rampage through high-tech farms. Prince Charles is quiet. Has the war over the world's dinner table finally ended?

Not quite. Europe, much of Asia and parts of Africa fiercely resist filling the larder with genetically modified groceries, and many in agribusiness despair that they always will. So instead, they're trying to woo them with distinctly non-GM varieties. Crop scientists, seed companies and clever farmers are using the most advanced tools of science to reinvent native breeding—the age-old technique of selecting the best crops and then painstakingly breeding and crossbreeding them to make more and better food. These discoveries are remaking the world's farms by boosting productivity, creating more-nutritious food and steeling harvests against diseases and inclement weather. And yet because the new methods do not require gene splicing, they circumvent the conflict between Big Biotech and the Cassandras of food that has roiled for decades. In part, this is also a recognition that early claims for the coming genetically modified utopia were overstated.

Don't call it retro farming. Behind the revival of "traditional" farming techniques are many of the same breakthroughs in genetics, computerization and plant physiology that have driven the biotech revolution. The difference is, instead of food fashioned in the laboratory by lifting DNA from one species to another, scientists are working to unlock the secrets bundled inside each plant itself.

Part of the story is that conventional breeding can still do certain things extremely well—even better than genetic manipulation. What GM techniques are best at is isolating particularly useful bits of DNA in a prized plant, and transferring that single gene to another plant that is less well endowed. (In the best-known example, Monsanto spliced a gene from naturally herbicide-tolerant grass into soybeans, so farmers could apply the chemicals without killing their crops.)

Conventional breeding still does better at building up qualities that require a complex suite of genes, such as the ability to fight off certain insects or to resist drought, which involves a host of genes that determine the way plants take up and manage water. The Switzerland-based company Syngenta, which made its name through gene splicing, has found that the best way to fight off sucking aphids, which devour soybeans, is through a combination of techniques, from spraying with pesticides to using molecular markers to identify naturally resistant strains of soy and then crossbreed them to create bugproof new varieties.

Without resorting to GM, researchers at the Brazilian agricultural institute Embrapa are breeding varieties of upland rice that not only ward off pests and increase yield, but also contain up to double the vital minerals (iron, zinc) found in unimproved varieties. They have tripled the amount of vitamin A in corn and boosted iron uptake in wheat. Cimmyt, a wheat- and maize-improvement center in Mexico, is breeding corn for pest resistance that has cut losses to weevils in half. The German biotech company BASF has launched an improved, non-GM strain of corn that resists striga, a weed that ravages African fields, and is working to breed high-yielding commercial strains of wheat that also resist fungus and drought.

The recent advances in genomics are saving scientists time, grief and money over old methods of crossbreeding by allowing them to quickly zero in on the genes associated with desired traits like high growth or vitamin A content or efficient ethanol production. Ag experts are especially excited by a technique called marker-assisted breeding, which mines a plant genome to enhance native breeding. Just as modern medicine has found ways to track bits of human DNA responsible for good traits (straight teeth) or bad (cancer), high-tech farmers peer inside the submicroscopic components of seeds and plants to pinpoint the specific genes, or markers, that command growth, or that make plants susceptible to disease. Identifying and tracking markers can lead in a matter of months to the strongest varieties for further breeding while discarding the weak. Research can then use lasers to take microslices of a seed without damaging it and evaluate the genetic components to see if they've got a potential winner. The techniques have cut the time it takes corn breeders to create a new strain from 10 years to four.

Avoiding gene tinkering also saves money that would otherwise be spend on lawyers, patents and getting the products through the labyrinth of health and safety hurdles—often 90 percent of the cost of GM, estimates Thomas Lumpkin, head of maize breeding at Cimmyt. The battle over Frankenfoods is sure to smolder on. But thanks to the breakthroughs of cutting-edge agricultural science, traditional farming still has a brilliant future.


PBS Selects Judy Chambers at New Director


Dr. Judy Chambers has been selected as the new Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) director and will formally assume the role on July 27. Dr. Chambers joins PBS with extensive experience in biotechnology and biosafety. She served as Director of International Government Affairs at Monsanto Company and as Senior Advisor to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where she was responsible for co-developing the first public-private sector agency program on agricultural biotechnology (ABSP).

She has also worked as an independent consultant on agriculture biotechnology issues for public, private, non-profit and academic establishments. As a highly-regarded, internationally-recognized senior executive with over fifteen years of experience in strategic leadership positions within and on behalf of diverse institutions, Dr. Chambers joins PBS with a strong background in international and cultural issues affecting technology and product acceptance, public-private sector coalition building, and corporate social responsibility initiatives.

PBS operates in a number of African and Asian countries. PBS is managed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).


India: Swapan Datta is New ICAR Deputy Director General


Swapan Datta, former senior scientist in PBGB and HarvestPlus Rice Crop Leader at IRRI (1993-2005), joined the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Delhi as deputy director general on 18 June. Dr. Datta is an internationally recognized rice scientist who has contributed enormously to research and development in golden indica rice, high-iron rice, development and field management of Bt-rice, Xa-21 rice, and PR-rice for plant protection in several countries including India and China. He is the recipient of the TATA innovation fellowship from the Government of India and was elected Fellow of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences and National Academy of Sciences.

Before joining ICAR, he was serving University of Calcutta as the Rashbehari Ghose Chair Professor. His vast and successful experience in international and national agriculture science, and research management at ETH-Zurich (1987-93) will help him to serve the ICAR system to boost India's agriculture growth. IRRI wishes him success at ICAR and anticipates and even stronger IRRI-ICAR partnership.


Tropical Crop Biotechnology Conference

- July 21-24, 2009; Kruger National Park, South Africa http://www.tcbc2009.com/index.html

The 2009 event will be an update of progress and prospects in plant biotechnology for the tropics. It will be essential for researchers working on the biotechnology of tropical crops, as well as public and private sector managers interested in business and economic development from tropical plant biotechnology. The programme will include networking tours. TCBC2009 will be held in South Africa in the town of Hazyview 30 minutes drive from the Kruger National Park. The conference and acomodation will be held at the Casa Do Sol hotel.


ISAAA Video on "Knowledge, Technology and Poverty Alleviation" Available in 17 Languages


The abridged version of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) video on "Knowledge, Technology and Poverty Alleviation is now available with subtitles in the 17 languages. The 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. It discusses in detail the three questions global society has begun to ask about biotech crops.


McHughen and Goldberg Lectures on Agricultural Biotechnology from UCLA

Lectures by Prof. Alan McHughen

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNXmlr8aGdU

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmdV06jxRq4

Alan McHughen is a public sector educator, scientist and consumer advocate. A molecular geneticist with an interest in crop improvement and environmental sustainability, he helped develop US and Canadian regulations covering genetically engineered crops and foods. He helps non-scientists understand the environmental and health impacts of both modern and traditional methods of food production. His award winning book, 'Pandora's Picnic Basket; The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods' uses understandable, consumer-friendly language to explode the myths and explore the genuine risks of genetic modification (GM) technology.

Lecture by Prof. Bob Goldberg


Genetic Engineering in Medicine, Agriculture, & Law is a class that examines the historical and scientific study of genetic engineering in medicine, agriculture, and law, including examination of social, ethical, and legal issues raised by new technology.

Bob Goldberg is a plant molecular biologist who specializes in the area of plant gene expression. The goal of his research has been to understand how plant cells differentiate and how genes are activated selectively in specialized cell types during plant development. He has received UCLA Distinguished Teaching Awards from the Department of Biology and the Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology, and was awarded the all-campus Luckmann Distinguished Teaching Award from the Academic Senate.


Biotechnology and Agricultural Development: Transgenic Cotton, Rural Institutions and Resource-poor Farmers

- Rob Tripp (Editor), Routledge; May 26, 2009, 280 pages, ISBN-10: 0415543843, Amazon.com price $30.33 http://www.routledge-ny.com

This book addresses the continuing controversy over the potential impact of genetically modified (GM) crops in developing countries. Supporters of the technology claim it offers one of the best hopes for increasing agricultural production and reducing rural poverty, while opponents see it as an untested intervention that will bring corporate control of peasant farming. The book examines the issues by reviewing the experience of GM, insect-resistant cotton, the most widely grown GM crop in developing countries.

The book begins with an introduction to agricultural biotechnology, a brief examination of the history of cotton production technology (and the institutions required to support that technology), and a thorough review of the literature on the agronomic performance of GM cotton. It then provides a review of the economic and institutional outcomes of GM cotton during the first decade of its use. The core of the book is four country case studies based on original fieldwork in the principal developing countries growing GM cotton (China, India, South Africa and Colombia). The book concludes with a summary of the experience to date and implications for the future of GM crops in developing countries.

This review challenges those who have predicted technological failure by describing instances in which GM cotton has proven useful and has been enthusiastically taken up by smallholders. But it also challenges those who claim that biotechnology can take the lead in agricultural development by examining the precarious institutional basis on which these hopes rest in most countries. The analysis shows how biotechnology’s potential contribution to agricultural development must be seen as a part of (and often secondary to) more fundamental policy change. The book should be of interest to a wide audience concerned with agricultural development. This would include academics in the social and agricultural sciences, donor agencies and NGOs.



FFA President: Specialization, Biotech are the Future of Ag

- Jeremiah Tucker, Sauk Prairie Eagle, July 1, 2009 http://www.wiscnews.com/

B.J. Chrisler, a 2007 graduate of Sauk Prairie High School, recently was elected Future Farmers of America president of Wisconsin. Chrisler shared some of his thoughts about the future of agriculture with the Eagle through e-mail.

Q: How do you think the future of agriculture will be different than it is today?
A: Biotechnology and specialization will become the forefront of modern agriculture. Each year, agriculture loses countless acres of farmland to eminent domain, housing projects and commercial facilities. In order to meet the demands of the world we need to first answer the question of food or fuel. Should agricultural crops traditionally used for food production be utilized for fuel? Can we meet the demand? Biotechnology, genetically modified organisms, and conservation tillage methods will allow us to meet these demands, while still conserving our natural resources.

Q: Do you think agriculture will move away from large, monoculture farms to small farms with more diverse crops and livestock?
A: Specialized farms, whether large or small, are most likely going to be the future of production agriculture. With today’s demand of products, small diverse farms cannot meet the production requirements. Overall, it makes more sense for people to specialize and master certain components of production agriculture. From beef production to dairy production to crop production, specialization allows farmers to increase production through focusing on the specific growth requirements.

Q: If you could make one request of President Barack Obama for the future of Wisconsin’s agricultural industry, what would it be?

A: Think as a realist. Today Wisconsin agriculture and agriculture as a whole has to defend the right to farm, harvest natural resources, and manufacture the consumer-demanded supplies. It is a shame that today’s population has become so disconnected from the very industry that keeps our nation alive. I hope President Obama understands that without agriculture he would simply be naked and hungry.

More at http://www.wiscnews.com/spe/news/456888


True Blue GM Rose

- Simon Grose, TCE Today, June 30, 2009 http://www.tcetoday.com

It's not royal blue or even sky blue, but blue enough to lay claim to the title of the world’s first blue rose.

Australia’s Gene Technology Regulator has granted a licence to Florigene for commercial release of a genetically modified Hybrid Tea rose which expresses genes for the colour blue.

Naturally occuring roses lack enzymes responsible for the production of the blue pigment delphinidin. The new rose line contains the Flavonoid 3’5’-hydroxylase gene from Viola tricolour and the Anthocyanin 5-acyltransferase gene from Torenia x hybrida, expressed in the epidermal layer of flower petals to cause production of delphinidin pigments.

The GM rose also contains a marker gene for resistance to aminoglycoside antibiotics related to kanamycin and neomycin. The GM line is a periclinal chimera so its pollen does not contain the introduced genes.
Regulatory sequences from Cauliflower mosaic virus, Tobacco mosaic virus and Agrobacterium tumefaciens have also been inserted to control expression of the introduced genes.

“Although all of these sequences are derived from plant pathogens, the regulatory sequences comprise only a small part of the pathogen’s total genome, and are not in themselves capable of causing disease,” the regulator’s decision said. It concluded that the new rose poses negligible health and environmental risks.

“Nonetheless, general licence conditions have been imposed to ensure that there is ongoing oversight of the release,” the decision said. “These conditions relate to ongoing licence holder suitability, auditing and monitoring, and reporting requirements which include an obligation to report any unintended effects.”

Six years after it was founded in Melbourne in 1986, Florigene gained patents over use of a petunia gene which imparts blue flower colour. In 1994 it successfully implanted the gene into carnations to create a GM range which has been commercially available worldwide for some years. In 2003 the company was acquired by the Suntory group of companies but its research is still conducted in Melbourne.