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July 8, 2009


Igniting Ag Innovation; Another Tool In the Struggle; Hot Potato; GM vs Organic; Brussels Needs to Rethink; Missing the Farmer


* Igniting Agricultural Innovation: Biotechnology Policy Prescriptions for a New Administration
* GM Crops Are Another Tool In the Struggle Against Poverty
* Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S. Overview
* How the Potato Got Hot
* LA Times Poll: 86% believe GM foods will eventually be accepted
* Uganda: Food Court - Genetically Modified Versus Organic Foods
* India: Farm Scientists Bat For Genetically Modified Crops
* Brussels Needs to Rethink GM Policy, Says NIAB
* Biotechnology: Africa Must Not Be Left Behind
* Desert Rhubarb -- A Self-irrigating Plant!
* Biofuels Special - In Vitro Biology
* The Gene Revolution and Global Food Security: Biotechnology Innovation in Latecomers
* Acceptable Genes?: Religious Traditions and Genetically Modified Foods
* GM Food on Trial: Testing European Democracy
* Debate Over Food Movie Misses Most Farmers

Igniting Agricultural Innovation: Biotechnology Policy Prescriptions for a New Administration

- L. Val Giddings and Bruce M. Chassy, Science Progress, July 1, 2009. Excerpted below.
Full commentary at http://www.scienceprogress.org/2009/07/igniting-agricultural-innovation/

“Civilization has been built on genetically modified plants.” — Nina V. Fedoroff, Pennsylvania State University

'Agricultural innovations through modern biotechnology have delivered significant economic, environmental, health and consumer benefits in recent years, but the full potential is even greater.'

In order to feed a growing, hungry world amidst a warming climate, we have to produce more food. Solutions to the problem of how to increase crop yields include both ecology-based farming and biotechnology approaches. But how do we define biotechnology? And can it support progressive approaches to improving prospects for the poor farmers of the world? This series on the issue gathers perspectives from experts who take a hard look at the science, the economics, and the complexities of agricultural development.

Agricultural innovations through modern biotechnology have delivered significant economic, environmental, health and consumer benefits in recent years, but the full potential is even greater. Producers have embraced these innovations wherever they have had access, and consumers have purchased everything produced. The principal obstacle to additional innovations that will extend and expand benefits even further is ill-considered and scientifically unjustified or illogically implemented regulation. While the United States has had a comparative advantage over many other countries with a regulatory regime more closely anchored in science than most, regulations and implementation have not kept pace with scientific advances and accumulated experience.
The upshot: a simultaneously looming humanitarian crisis and a potential source of great political instability—food and water shortages—will drive future global politics. This approaching catastrophe, however, is not preordained, even though the serious challenges posed by food and water shortages are real and growing. The Obama administration can take concrete steps to stimulate more ambitious and widespread innovation that would unfetter the tools needed to address these challenges. The specific measures proposed in this paper would stimulate the process of innovation in seed improvement. Improved crop varieties resulting from these innovations would enable the production of more food, feed, and fiber with lower inputs, reduced environmental impacts, and greater profitability. Such consequences would be economically beneficial to all players in the chain from farm to fork, but perhaps felt most acutely and directly by agricultural producers themselves, boosting the viability of rural communities. As argued in the following pages, several things are needed:

* A realignment of regulations so that oversight is, in fact, anchored in up-to-date scientific understanding and real world experience, and focused on unknowns that may poses risks in need of management, while reducing the burdens on innovations that have been so widely adopted as now to be accepted as conventional
* A more active program of international diplomacy to share information with other countries on the impacts of biotech improvements to agriculture, and the widely shared economic uplift thus enabled
* A more active and coordinated educational outreach program implemented by regulatory agencies and coordinated by diplomats to illuminate the conditions required to enable the widest dissemination of such innovations and their benefits, including strong intellectual property rights and science-based approaches to regulation and risk management.

In the analysis that follows, this report will detail the role of agricultural biotechnology in the United States and around the globe. It will examine issues inhibiting the application of potentially beneficial technologies, including the effects of scientifically unjustifiable and disproportionate regulation and the malign influence of special interest opposition groups. And it will present specific recommendations to improve an enabling environment in which the best of U.S. science and technology can be applied to the national and global challenges that confront us and will define our future.
Reform the US regulatory system. Regulations must be based in science and should be frequently updated to take into account the lessons gained from experience. Judicial decisions based on perceived procedural deficiencies[46] should not be allowed to drive regulatory action in directions unsupported by science. The system should not seek zero risk as this is unattainable in the real world. Regulatory review should seek to establish that novel products are as safe as others in the marketplace. In making this evaluation regulators must take into account both the harms caused by present practices as well as opportunity costs, the potential benefits that would be lost by non-adoption. The degree of regulation should be commensurate with real risks and harms. Specifically:

* The trigger for regulatory review should be the novelty of the introduced trait (introduced by whatever method) and not the process used to introduce the trait. The degree of scrutiny should depend on the relative risk associated with the phenotype and the host when it can be shown that the methods used do not add to the risk. The system should have clear guidelines that quantitatively specify timely decision-making.
* Exempt phenotypes from regulatory review if they could be accomplished through classical methods. If a phenotype comparable to that under review could be produced by a variety of production methodologies (classical breeding vs. recombinant DNA modifications, for example) then there should be a strong presumption against any review process that would make it more difficult, for example, to see the rDNA product move into the field for R&D or commercial purposes when there is no scientific justification for such discrimination.
* Recognize that gene flow is a natural phenomenon and is not intrinsically hazardous. The potential for gene movement via pollen flow is a natural phenomenon. Regulatory agencies must stop treating gene flow as intrinsically hazardous, and shift their focus to appropriate risk management/mitigation in the rare cases where genes so disseminated could, in fact, present a genuine hazard.
* Shift to phenotype-based regulatory triggers. Agencies should transition from an event-based regulatory process to a phenotype-based process, as the hazard of a phenotype that is stably inherited has more to do with the distinguishing features of the phenotype than with the precise details of the process through which it was produced.
* Enhance effectiveness, adaptability, and public confidence by accelerating regulatory updates and transparency. To unleash this technology and enable it to proceed at a pace dictated by the rate of scientific advance the remedy is simple: the new administration should insist on transparency and require prompt publication of proposed policy documents and regulatory guidance by responsible agencies, which must then be tasked with timely responses to public comment. This will galvanize innovation not only in the animal biotech sector, which has suffered acutely in this regard, but broadly.

Fund outreach and education here and abroad. A program to counter misinformation and offer developing countries regulatory models that will create an enabling climate for biotechnology is essential. Regulators from USDA, FDA, and EPA should be a much more active and visible presence on the international stage and in multilateral fora, sharing the American experience with agricultural biotechnology and correcting misunderstandings fueled by opponents driven by concerns unanchored in data and experience. The Department of State should play a larger leadership and coordinating role focusing these efforts on countries of key strategic importance and global significance.

Make helping developing countries attain sustainable food security a major priority for U.S. foreign aid, open not only to biotechnology but to all technological innovation. Such a policy would be relatively inexpensive (by comparison with the costs of dealing with consequences of the alternatives, including inaction) and yield beneficial results on numerous fronts, including national security. Reversing the past three decades of decline of support, through USAID, for international agricultural research through the CGIAR[47] would be a good first step.

Maintain strong intellectual property protection as an essential stimulus to investment. Intellectual property contained in the genetics of self-replicating plants is easily infringed. The administration should advocate for patent law and PTO administrative reforms that reward private investment in valuable agricultural innovations.

In summary, biotechnology applied to agriculture has enormous potential to enhance our ability to develop seeds for improved crops and for enhanced livestock to enable us to meet the food, feed and fiber challenges of a growing world and stressed ecosystems in coming years. Significant impediments are created by unwarranted or outdated regulatory burdens that could easily be removed. The resulting, stronger scientific basis for regulatory oversight will increase the efficiency of regulation designed to prevent or manage risks and uncertainties while enabling more rapid development of innovative, safer products. Benefits to human health, the environment, global political stability and national security would follow.
L. Val Giddings, Ph.D, is President, PrometheusAB, Inc. and Bruce M. Chassy, Ph.D., is Professor of Food Microbiology, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois, Urbana.

Full article http://www.scienceprogress.org/2009/07/igniting-agricultural-innovation/


GM Crops Are Another Tool In The Struggle Against Poverty

- Mark Tester, Guardian (uk), July 8, 2009 http://www.guardian.co.uk/

'We need more, and perhaps different, strategies to give farmers on low-quality soils a better chance at improving their lot'

Salty soils affect the growth of plants worldwide, particularly in irrigated land where one-third of the world's food is produced. It is estimated that one-fifth of irrigated land is salt-affected. And it is a problem that is only going to get worse as pressure to use more water increases and the quality of water decreases. Helping plants to withstand this salty onslaught would have a significant impact on world food production.

Salt in the soil also affects dryland agriculture, particularly in semi-arid regions of the world, such as in the Middle East, Kazakhstan and Australia. 70% of Australia's wheat crop is affected by salt that is found as much a metre beneath the surface – this is important, as Australia is one of the world's largest exporters of wheat.

Any approaches which can be taken to reduce the impact of salinity on world food production would be valuable. The world food situation is now critical. More than one billion people now go hungry each day. World grain stores are now lower than they have been for fifty years, since before the Green Revolution. Reflecting this, prices have increased greatly. Pressures from increasing population, increasing standards of living and biofuels, all in the context of global climate change, are making demands that are increasingly difficult to meet.

The inequitable distribution of food is, of course, very important, as are problems of distribution of better seed varieties and basic farming technologies to farmers. These are perennial issues which intergovernmental organisations (such as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) and charities (eg the Rockefeller Foundation) have battled valiantly to address for decades. And support for this must continue. But despite such wonderful work and many local victories, the problems globally are getting worse, not better. We need more and, perhaps, different strategies – including new technologies.

In my group's research over the past ten years, we have been studying the mechanisms plants use to tolerate salinity, and how to manipulate these processes so that plants can keep growing while the salt keeps rising.

We have generated plants that are much more tolerant to salt, work which was published yesterday.

One mechanism of salinity tolerance involves keeping the toxic sodium ion (Na+) out of the leaves. One way to do this is to reduce the amount of Na+ moving from the roots to the shoots in the stream of water that flows up through the plant's water conducting pipes.

We made a targeted genetic tweak so that Na+ is removed from the water flowing up the stem before it reaches the shoot – once out, it is stuck. The effect of this manipulation is to reduce the amount of toxic Na+ building up the shoot and so increase the plant's tolerance to salinity.

The control of the gene we manipulated is crucial. To be effective, it must be tuned up so that it works harder and produces more protein than it usually would specifically around the plant's water conducting tubes in the mature root. In doing this, we have enhanced a process used naturally by plants to minimise the movement of Na+ to the shoot. We have used genetic modification (GM) to amplify the process, helping plants to do what they already do – but to do it much better!

We are now in the process of transferring the technology to crops such as rice, wheat and barley. And results in rice already look very promising.

The motivation for my research is as an independent academic seeking knowledge and its application for public good. It is driven by the same imperatives that led me to be an active member of the UK Green party for nearly a decade. As such, I consider my funding sources to be irrelevant to my academic integrity. Nevertheless, I can declare that none of our research on salinity has been paid for by industry. All funding has been from UK, EU or Australian governmental sources or from charities such as the Leverhulme Foundation. Furthermore, the outputs described in the paper are fully and freely available for public benefit. I hope very much that the principles of our work can be applied to develop salt-tolerant crops in developing countries and give farmers on low-quality soils a better chance at improving their lot.

And giving people a chance to better their situation is something we need to facilitate, not impede. The west may not need more food, but remember Make Poverty History – a child dies unnecessarily as a result of extreme poverty every three seconds. GM crops are not the answer to this shameful global situation, but I argue strongly that they provide another tool, another option to try to address the problem. And I do not think those of us sitting in comfortable wealth have a right to deny people the opportunity to improve their production of food. The technology is just that, a technology. Like nuclear technologies (radiotherapy or nuclear weapons) or mobile phones (communication or bomb triggers), how we use it is the main issue. I hope that the plants we have generated provide a subtle use of GM technology that will allow some positive benefits for the developing world.

Prof Mark Tester started working on mechanisms of salinity tolerance at the University of Cambridge, and has continued this over the past five years at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and the University of Adelaide in Australia. His research also includes increasing the efficiency of nitrogen in crops and the concentration of iron and zinc in rice grain – to address the world's biggest health problem, micronutrient deficiency.


Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S. Overview


U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) crops widely since their introduction in 1996, notwithstanding uncertainty about consumer acceptance and economic and environmental impacts. Soybeans and cotton genetically engineered with herbicide-tolerant traits have been the most widely and rapidly adopted GE crops in the U.S., followed by insect-resistant cotton and corn. This data product summarizes the extent of adoption of herbicide-tolerant and insect–resistant crops since their introduction in 1996. Three tables devoted to corn, cotton, and soybeans cover the 2000-09 period by State.

Adoption of GE crops has grown steadily in the United States since their introduction in 1996. Data

* All tables in one Excel workbook (multiple worksheets) For more information, contact: Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo


How the Potato Got Hot

- Tom Standage, LA Times, July 5, 2009

'A tale from history offers us a prediction about the future of food.'

The foodstuff was once viewed as unnatural and dangerous. Its rise to a global staple may tell us something about today's genetically modified crops.

The wonder crop is new and unfamiliar, lauded by scientists and politicians as having the potential to end famine and feed the poor. But the public is skeptical, regarding this new food as unnatural and dangerous. The reaction to genetically modified crops today? In fact, this is what happened when potatoes were introduced into Europe from the Americas in the 1500s and 1600s.

Scientists were enamored with this new foodstuff because it had several valuable properties. Potatoes thrive even in years when the wheat crop has failed, noted a committee of the Royal Society, Britain's pioneering scientific association, in the 1660s. Better still, potatoes can be grown in almost any kind of soil and take only three to four months to mature, against 10 for cereal grains. And potatoes produce two to four times as many calories per acre as wheat, rye or oats. The case for widespread adoption of the potato, the scientists argued, was obvious.

The public was much less enthusiastic. Potatoes aroused deep suspicion because they were unfamiliar. They were not mentioned in the Bible, which suggested that God had not meant people to eat them, said some clergymen. To herbalists who believed that the appearance of a plant was an indication of the diseases it could cause or cure, potatoes resembled a leper's gnarled hands, and the idea that they caused leprosy became widespread. More scientifically inclined botanists identified these first-known edible tubers as members of the poisonous nightshade family, and potatoes came to be associated with witchcraft and devil worship.

But European attitudes toward potatoes shifted during the 1700s as a result of two things: war and famine. Disruptions to the food supply meant that some people had no choice but to eat potatoes, and they soon discovered that their fears about them were unfounded. In Britain, the potato became more widespread after two bad wheat harvests. "From the apprehension of a second year of scarcity, potatoes have been everywhere planted and their produce has been generally great," noted the Times of London approvingly in 1795.

A series of famines earned the potato some friends in high places, so that its adoption became official policy in many countries. Frederick the Great of Prussia urged wider cultivation of potatoes among his subjects after crops failed in 1740. In Russia, Catherine the Great's medical advisors convinced her that the potato could be an antidote to starvation.

The potato's greatest champion, however, was Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, a French scientist. While serving in the army in the 1760s, he spent three years in a Prussian jail, where he subsisted almost entirely on potatoes and became convinced of their merits. On his return to France, he wrote a prize-winning essay touting potatoes as "foodstuffs capable of reducing the calamities of famine," and convinced other scientists and doctors of their benefits.

But the public was unmoved until Parmentier arranged a series of publicity stunts. He organized a potato-heavy birthday banquet for King Louis XVI, for example, and persuaded the king's wife, Marie Antoinette, to wear potato flowers in her hair. She never actually said, "Let them eat cake," but she did endorse the potato.

But Parmentier's greatest trick was to post armed guards around the fields just outside Paris, given to him by the king, where he was growing potatoes. This aroused the interest of the local people, who wondered what valuable crop could possibly require such measures. Once the crop was ready, Parmentier withdrew the guards, and the locals duly rushed in and stole the potatoes. Several potato dishes are named after Parmentier in recognition of the success of his efforts.

Today, in an era when French fries are an icon of globalization, it is difficult to imagine that people were once afraid to eat potatoes. Yet many of the concerns they raised are now inspired by genetically modified foodstuffs. As with potatoes, they are seen by their critics as unnatural and possibly dangerous, though they also raise entirely new concerns about the extent to which agriculture has come under the control of large companies. At the same time, the technology is championed by scientists and politicians who regard it as a promising approach to increasing the food supply.

Might the threat of famine and war cause attitudes to shift again? Hardly a month goes by without a new report on the impact of climate change on global agriculture. A recent report from the International Food Policy Research Institute warned of the "dramatic consequences" for agriculture as variations in rainfall patterns cause droughts and floods, and coastal food-producing areas are inundated and yields decline. There have also been warnings of "food wars" triggered by shifts in the distribution of fertile land and water supplies. Meanwhile, the world's population is heading toward 9.2 billion people by 2075, according to U.N. forecasts. For most of the world's population, climate change will manifest itself as a food crisis.

Navigating the coming food-climate-population crunch will require new approaches to food production, both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture itself (about 15% of the total) and to ensure that there is enough food for everyone. Advocates of genetic modification argue that it could be used to develop new varieties of wheat, corn and other crops that require less fertilizer and water and are more disease-resistant. Such miracle crops have yet to be developed, but a lot of research is underway. That much of it is being done by government researchers in developing countries might help to neutralize the objection that genetic technology is part of a nefarious corporate plot to enslave the world's farmers.

What is clear is that it will be necessary to assemble the largest possible toolbox of agricultural methods for the coming century. That will include making the best use of traditional and modern farming techniques, and creating hybrids of the two. It will also open the door to new approaches, from wider use of techniques developed since the 1970s that minimize the tilling of the soil to reduce erosion and fuel use to the cultivation of food using hydroponic techniques in "vertical farms" inside skyscrapers. And it seems plausible that the prospect of famine and war might also prompt people to put aside their worries about genetically modified crops -- just as they did, more than 200 years ago, in the case of the potato.
Tom Standage, author of "An Edible History of Humanity," is business affairs editor at the Economist.

LA Times Poll: 86% believe GM foods will eventually be accepted

Will Genetically Modified foods ever be accepted as potatoes eventually were?

Yes, in time people will accept them. 86%
No, they’re dangerous. 14%


Uganda: Food Court - Genetically Modified Versus Organic Foods

- Kikonyogo Ngatya, The Monitor (Kampala), July 1, 2009 http://allafrica.com/

Over 700 of Africa's best agricultural research scientists crammed the arrival and departure lounges at Entebbe International Airport last week.

One group, under the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Producers, promoting organic farming, rushed to Sheraton Hotel in Kampala and started "fast-tracking" how the continent can tap into the vast potential from organic farming.

Another group under the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, (CGIAR) pitched camp at Imperial Beach Hotel in Entebbe, a few kilometres from the airport, deliberating on how to deliver agricultural biotechnology to African farmers.

The experts often don't see eye to eye and accuse each other of telling lies to small holder farmers. But both groups, well-funded and cruising air conditioned four-wheel drives and globe-trotting, claim to work for the ordinary small holder farmers, who constitute the bulk of rural Africans. Each looks at the other with profound suspicion.

Every group is convinced they are the only way to ending chronic hunger, misery and malnutrition on the African continent. It's not clear why this time round they chose to meet in Uganda, but one voice came up strongly -- Africa needs food now. With many of the sub-Saharan African countries including Tanzania, Zambia,Rwanda, Kenya,Burundu and South Africa that attended having such overwhelming population growth, the question of access to nutritious food, let alone competing in international markets, is becoming more important than ever before.

There were many counter accusations. Each side sent spies to the other camp. At one point, I had to be screened to make sure I was not wired to spy for either group, because I had invitations to both. Then the drama started. Mr Daniel Otunge, a Kenyan delegate working with the International Service for Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA-Afr-Centre, said organic farming in the African context is not sustainable.

He likened it to massaging the interests of a few wealthy people in the West who choose what to eat, but Africa is after survival. He attacked Prince Charles, an open critic of genetically modified products in Britain, saying he is a big organic farmer and his opposition to GMOs is pure business politics. At the Sheraton, Prof Charles Ssekyewa, a Ugandan scholar on organic agriculture accused the GMO promoters of peddling risks to the environment.

He said bacillus thurinegiesis, a bacteria-delivered gene that is being inserted into food crops like maize is both an environmatal and health disaster. He said insects develop resistance to bt-gene and cannot be killed by other pests. He scoffed at GMOs, saying "It is so scary. They cover themselves from head to toe in white gowns. Small holder farmers for whom they are developing the technologies hadly go there. How do you expect them to adopt your technologies?" he wondered.

But both maintained they were meeting with African farmers at the back of their minds and with good intensions. The IFPRI group issued a press release that read in part: "By bringing social scientists and decision makers together, this first-of-its-kind conference aims to bridge the gap between policy and research, and provide solid information and evidence on which sound choices and investments related to GM technology can be made.

Research presented at the conference, for example, shows that in delaying the approval of the GM fungal-resistant banana, Uganda foregoes potential benefits ranging from about $179m to $365m a year," MS Michele Pietrowski, the Communication officer for IFPRI noted. According to IFPRI analysis, expansion in the adoption of GM crops could also significantly lower the price of food in developing countries by 2050. Realising these benefits however, depends on acceptance by farmers, public awareness and consumer preferences, regulatory and market issues, and strong political will, including the willingness to invest in new technology.

It is not easy for African small holder farmers to choose who is telling the truth. But with the numerous challenges presentedby climate change, countries are struggling to feed their populations. But the mutual suspicion and rivalry of ideology at the policy making level has implications on the development of sound legal frameworks for African countries to address challenges to agricultural research. For example, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are harmonising positions on how to benefit from the digital soil mapping strategy by Bill and Mellinda Gates Foundation.

Based on this project, both parties can develop specific agroecological zone soil recommendations to enhance the productivity of organic and GMO foods.

Africa needs food produced whichever way. The need is for a sound biotech risk assessment policy framework.


India: Farm Scientists Bat For Genetically Modified Crops

- Thai Indian News, July 2nd, 2009 http://www.thaindian.com

Cuttack (Orissa), July 2 (IANS) Though the union government is still to give a go ahead to the introduction of genetically modified (GM) food crops, the scientists of Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI) here are batting for them.
“Genetically modified crops can help contribute to food security of our country through increased yields at a lower production cost,” said G.J.N. Rao, Head of Plant Improvement in this leading research institute.

“National institutes like ICRISAT, ICGEB and other seed companies are increasingly investing in research in GM crops. Field trials are being conducted in rice, brinjal, okra, cabbage, cauliflower, groundnut, papaya, potato, tomato. Keeping in view rising food prices due to shortage of food it is necessary that technological knowhow is applied to ensure food and nutritional security in the country,” he added.

Citing the example genetically modified BT cotton he said: “The result is for all to see. There is an increased yield of cotton, making India the second largest producer and exporter. It has not only increased the profit of the farmers but also reduced the input cost considerably.

“We are doing genetic modification for ages now through grafting. We have done it in rice too by modifying the gene which has given excellent results. The technology is same everywhere and there should not be any opposition to the introduction of GM crops,” Rao stressed, adding that GM food is completely safe.

He said that government has a robust policy and regulatory system before a new technology is applied. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee gives approval to introduce the technology only after rigorous scientific studies and one should not be unnecessarily worried about safety.

“Those who are opposing GM food are creating misinformation. Many countries have already adopted the technology including USA which is very particular about safety. One must know that USA never fights a war in its own soil rather prefers to fight a war far from its soil. Do you think USA will allow GM crop in its country had it been inimical to its people?” he questioned.

“There will be opposition to every new technology. There was opposition when new varieties of rice and wheat were introduced. But see how the new variety of seed has done wonders in increasing the food production manifold,” he added.

For the introduction of GM food crops, the government tabled the Seeds Bill in the Rajya Sabha in December 2004 and later referred it to the parliamentary standing committee on agriculture for review. The standing committee took about two years to review the bill and submitted its report in 2006. The report is still pending with the government.


Brussels Needs to Rethink GM Policy, Says NIAB

- Ian Ashbridge, Farmers Weekly (UK), July 3, 2009 http://www.fwi.co.uk

The EU must radically re-think its stance on GM crop technology if western agriculture is to deliver food and fuel for future generations, according to one of the UK's leading plant scientists.

Speaking to a conference of international agri-investment funds this week, Tina Barsby, chief executive of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, said that Brussels' policy on GM crops was "outdated and inadequate". Dr Barsby said no GM technology had received EU approval for cultivation in over a decade.

"GM technology is demonstrably not inherently dangerous. The EU needs to release the log-jam of production in the pipeline [that it is causing] and review its process-driven regulatory framework which is inadequate and outdated.", Dr Barsby said Brussels veto on rolling out GM culitvars was hamstringing western Europe's ability to produce more food to meet population growth and tackle climate change.

"[Brussels'] lack of respect for scientific decision making is leading to lack of investment." It was essential that GM technology was adopted as part of a wider effort to improve food production or Europe would be "left in the dust", she said. "Monsanto predicts a doubling of maize and soya yields by 2030 and that's not just by GM technology alone.

By 2015, the US private sector predicts more than 20 transgenes for insect resistance, nitrogen use efficiency and drought tolerance. Europe - and therefore cereals - will be left behind," she said.

Another conference speaker, Syngenta Seeds's chief executive Davor Pisk, agreed with Dr Barsby. "Politics are trumping science. Even when the G8 nations are calling for more technology, the EU upholds its ban." Mr Pisk said that for agriculture to address the critical challenges of producing food and energy in the future, "the full toolbox" was needed. "We need science-based regulation," he said.


Biotechnology: Africa Must Not Be Left Behind

- Wambi Michael, July 3, 2009 http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=47524

KAMPALA, (IPS) - Africa must embrace agricultural biotechnology or risk being excluded from a major technological revolution that has had increased food production in the Europe, North America and Asia.

Professor Diran Makinde, director of the West African Biosciences Network and NEPAD Biosciences Initiative says that "Africa missed the Green Revolution, which helped Asia and Latin America achieve self-sufficiency in food production. Africa cannot afford to be excluded or to miss another major global 'technological revolution' especially with the increasing population."

Participants at a May conference organised in Entebbe, Uganda by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Uganda's National Council of Science and Technology noted that climate change, crop pests and high production costs require urgent investment in developing Agriculture biotechnology for Africa if the challenges are to be addressed.

Mark Rosegrant, director of the environment and production technology division of IFPRI said, "In the coming years, growing populations, stagnating agricultural productivity and increasing climate change will make it more difficult for Africa to fight poverty and malnutrition. To confront these challenges, many African countries are assessing a range of tools and technologies, including agricultural biotechnologies which hold great promise for improving crop yields."

Rosegrant told IPS that Africa's crop production per unit area of land is the lowest in the world. "The production of sweet potato, a staple crop, is 6 tonnes per hectare compared to the global average of 14 tonnes per hectare. China produces on average 18 tonnes per hectare, three times the African average."

Professor Norah Olembo, executive director of biotech lobby group African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF) told IPS that biotechnology is also a way to avoid environmental damage caused by conventional methods of agricultural production.

"We are still languishing in poverty, hunger and devastation in Africa. Every year, you will hear one part of Africa is starving. And even if we are not starving, we are poor. But crop and tree production can bring wealth in several ways. In Kenya, the demand for tree seedlings reaches 14 million per year. We can use biotechnological techniques to stop deforestation and boost reforestation by developing fast growing trees suited for given parts of the country," she said.

The ABSF is a platform set up to promote the use of GM crops in Africa by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. ISAAA, in its turn, is sponsored by - among others - GM multinationals Bayer Crop Sciences and Monsanto to match biotechnological solutions with agricultural problems in developing countries.

Despite the multiple efforts to push biotech in African agriculture, Rosegrant said its adoption of has been slow in most places, due to what he described as "highly organised and effective organic and effective opponents of the technology" as well as the limited profit opportunities for GM products in Africa.

Biotech promoters believe most African countries lack appropriate regulation to guide agricultural biotechnology applications and research.

Makinde told IPS that the New Economic Partnership for African Development had begun addressing the challenge. "It is true the adoption of biotechnology has been slow in Africa yet we have seen the benefits of this tool in the rest of the world, especially the Asian developing countries like ours. We feel we need to drum it into our decision-makers that we are losing a lot of benefits by not adapting these technologies"

He added that "We at NEPAD and other regional biosciences networks are involved in strengthening the capacity of our policy makers to have that confidence, to have the knowledge and ability to process applications. Because what is happening is that when an institute - public or private - makes an application to conduct a trial, it takes them a lot of time, because (governments) don’t know how to do it (review an application).

"We are training our regulators so that they can approve or disapprove any project they think is good or not good for the countries".

The fact that genetically-modified crop varieties and biotechnology research are largely owned and controlled by transnational corporations which develop products which promise high returns is also felt to be a hindrance to Africa benefiting.

Dr Theresa Sengooba, of IFPRI's Programme For Biosafety Systems said, " We are looking at multi-lateral trade reforms to see how the African farmers can benefit from the research to increase food production. Of course we know that research is expensive and that seed companies have to make money . But they have the social responsibility and to me I think this can be done through negotiations like what has happened in a recent deal between Monsanto and Ghana government."

Rosegrant told IPS that the situation is gradually changing, with corporations like Monasnto showing interest in researching products that could suit African conditions.

"The private companies that have been developing the best GM technologies have now realised that African market is growing, so they are developing crops conducive for Africa. If the public sector can work with private companies, they could enter joint research arrangements to make the technology available. But I think none of those is possible with out a strong public sector in terms of regulatory framework, to ensure that the technology is safe and to set prices that are profitable to farmer."

African farmers will be watching developments with keen interest. There is lots of work ahead for promoters of biotechnology to develop varieties, regulations and safeguards that can satisfy government and popular demands for biosafety, as well as overcome small farmers' shortage of credit to purchase new proprietary seed every year - and perhaps a natural instinct to guard seed sovereignty.


Desert Rhubarb -- A Self-irrigating Plant!


Researchers from the University of Haifa-Oranim have managed to decipher the unique self-watering mechanism of this plant in the Negev desert, which harvests 16 times more water than other plants in the region
Researchers from the Department of Science Education-Biology at the University of Haifa-Oranim have managed to make out the "self-irrigating" mechanism of the desert rhubarb, which enables it to harvest 16 times the amount of water than otherwise expected for a plant in this region based on the quantities of rain in the desert. This is the first example of a self-irrigating plant worldwide.

The desert rhubarb grows in the mountains of Israel's Negev desert, where average precipitation is particularly low (75 mm per year). Unlike most of the other desert plant species, which have small leaves so as to minimize moisture loss, this plant is unique in that its leaves are particularly large; each plant's rosette of one to four leaves reaches a total diameter of up to one meter. Prof. Simcha Lev-Yadun, Prof. Gidi Ne'eman and Prof. Gadi Katzir came across this unique plant growing in the desert while studying the field area with students of the Department of Science Education-Biology of the University of Haifa-Oranim, and noticed that its leaves are unusually large and covered with a waxy cuticle. They observed an exceptionally ridged structure on each leaf, forming a leaf structure that resembles the habitat's mountainous topography.


Biofuels Special - In Vitro Biology

The June 2009 Issue of In Vitro Plant (Volume 45 Number 3) is a Special Issue Publication dedicated to Biofuels. Fourteen manuscripts are in this issue that comprises 192 pages of information on topics ranging from the economics of ethanol, overview of biodiesel, engineering yeast for production of ethanol and co-products, the DOE interests in biofuels, efforts towards cellulosic ethanol from grass species and very unique perspectives into the biofuel interests in China, India, Brazil and the United States.

For those that are members of the Society for In Vitro Biology, this Special Issue is currently available on-line at http://www.springerlink.com/content/j23653653110/?p=32761a0490b746e7abdada8e8f2beb70&pi=0

The hard copy of this valuable publication will be in the mail to SIVB members and journal subscribers in the next few days. For those that wish to receive this journal, the best way to do so is by becoming a member of the Society for In Vitro Biology through its website at www.sivb.org

Please contact David Songstad, Prakash Lakshmanan or Dwight Tomes if you have any questions.

Dave Songstad ([ mailto:david.d.songstad@monsanto.com ]david.d.songstad@monsanto.com)

Prakash Lakshmanan ([ mailto:PLakshmanan@bses.org.au ]PLakshmanan@bses.org.au)

Dwight Tomes ([ mailto:editor.invplt@me.com ]editor.invplt@me.com )


The Gene Revolution and Global Food Security: Biotechnology Innovation in Latecomers

- A new book by - Padmashree Gehl Sampath and Banji Oyeyinka (Hardcover) $85, 288 pages, Palgrave Macmillan (November 10, 2009), ISBN-10: 0230228828

- Using the concept of innovation capacity, this book, using recent field data from countries in Asia and Africa, competently demonstrates how biotechnology can contribute to sustainable economic development. The approach articulates the imperative for developing countries to build up specific capabilities backed up by policies and institutions.


Acceptable Genes?: Religious Traditions and Genetically Modified Foods

- A New Book by Conrad G. Brunk (Editor), Harold Coward (Editor) (Hardcover) $24.95 272 pages, State University of New York Press (November 5, 2009), ISBN-10: 1438428952

At the supermarket, modern biotechnology has surpassed science fiction with such feats as putting fish genes in tomatoes to create a more cold-resistant crop. While the environmental and health concerns over such genetically modified foods have been the subject of public debate, religious and spiritual viewpoints have been given short shrift. This book seeks to understand the moral and religious attitudes of groups within pluralistic societies whose traditions and beliefs raise for them unique questions about food and dietary practice. What questions are there for kosher Jews, halal Muslims, and vegetarian Hindus about food products containing transgenes from prohibited sources? How do these foods impact the cultural practices and spiritual teachings of indigenous peoples? Concerns from the above traditions as well as Christianity, Buddhism, Chinese religion, and ethical vegetarianism are included. Contributors look at the ethical context of each tradition and also include information from focus groups. This enlightening work concludes with recommendations for the labeling of genetically modified foods.

"This well written and thoughtful book is a significant contribution from religious voices, and the range of lenses in the book itself is a testimony to the many ways one can consider the implications of genetically modified organisms." -- Stephanie Kaza, author of Mindfully Green: A Personal and Spiritual Guide to Whole Earth Thinking

"Unique and timely; a good text for courses dealing with environmental ethics and comparative religious ethics." -- Swasti Bhattacharyya, author of Magical Progeny, Modern Technology: A Hindu Bioethics of Assisted Reproductive Technology


GM Food on Trial: Testing European Democracy

- Les Levidow (Author), Hardcover: 351 pages, $88.31, Routledge; 1 edition (October 6, 2009) ISBN-10: 0415955416

This book examines European institutions being 'put on trial' for how their regulatory procedures evaluate and regulate genetically-modified products. Levidow highlights how public controversy created a legitimacy crisis, leading to national policy changes and demands, in turn stimulating changes in EU agbiotech regulations as a strategy to regain legitimacy.


Debate Over Food Movie Misses Most Farmers

- Frank Morris, NPR, Weekend Edition Saturday, July 4, 2009; Frank Morris reports for member station KCUR in Kansas City. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106268444

Listen at

'Food, Inc.': Attention Must Be Paid To Food Supply

Food Inc., a documentary film about the modern agricultural industry, is a hit with big-city movie reviewers, small organic farmers and vegetarians. The movie argues that large-scale agriculture produces inexpensive meat and vegetables, but imposes high costs on the environment and Americans' health.

But ordinary farmers - the people who grow the lion's share of what America eats - have largely been left out of the mainstream media debate over the film.