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July 10, 2009


$20 Billion Pleddged In Farm Aid; Global Pipeline of New GM Crops; Lessons in Biopolitics; A Little Common Sense, Please; Gulf Between Scientists and Public


$* G8 Pledges $20 Billion In Farm Aid to Poor Nations
* Global Pipeline of New GM Crops
* Farmers Urged to Move Forward
* Risk Necessary for Scientific Progress, Says AC Grayling
* Lessons in Biopolitics
* Role of Genetically Modified Crops in Africa
* Scientific Flipflop - Why the opposition to genetic engineering? Experts debate
* The Case of "Nuclear Rice"
* A Little Common Sense, Please
* Parsing Between Corporations and Science
* Producing a Hypoallergenic Peanut - paper
* Herbicides Make Your Food More Nutritious (and may improve your eye sight!)
* US Survey Reveals Gulf Between Scientists and Public


G8 Pledges $20 Billion In Farm Aid to Poor Nations

- Phil Stewart and Gernot Heller, Reuters, July 10, 2009

L'AQUILA, Italy - G8 leaders pledged $20 billion in farm aid to help poor nations feed themselves, surpassing expectations on the final day of a summit that has yielded little progress on climate change and trade.

The United States used the meeting of world leaders to push for a shift toward farm investment aid from food aid and will make $3.5 billion available to the 3-year program. But African nations reminded the rich of a need to honor past commitments. "Working with the G8, African and European countries and multinational bodies, we had the satisfaction of increasing the $15 billion to $20 billion over three years," said Italian President Silvio Berlsuconi.

The United Nations says the number of malnourished people has risen over the past two years and is expected to top 1.02 billion this year, reversing a four-decade trend of declines. "$20 billion was a last-minute agreement and it was greeted with great happiness by all of us in the conference room. While we are rebuilding agriculture we need to continue supporting food assistance because the financial crisis is pushing another 103 million people into hunger this year," said Staffan de Mistura, vice executive director of the World Food Program.

After two days of talks focused on the economic crisis, trade and global warming, the final day of the meeting in Italy looked at problems facing the poorest nations. G8 leaders promised in Gleneagles in 2005 to increase annual aid by $50 billion by 2010, half of which was meant for African countries. But aid bodies say some G8 countries have gone back on their word, especially this year's G8 host, Italy.

African leaders said they would voice their concerns, with Ethiopian premier Meles Zenawi telling Reuters: "The key message for us is to ask the G8 to live up to their commitments."

Besides Meles, the leaders of Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa joined their G8 counterparts to discuss food security and farming, and to push their demand for compensation for the ravages of climate change.

It was not clear how much of the $20 billion was new funding and how much each country would give. The focus on agricultural investments reflects a U.S.-led shift away from emergency aid assistance toward longer-term strategies to try to make communities more self-sufficient.

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade told Reuters that Barack Obama, who will make his first visit to Africa as U.S. president after the G8, brought a welcome new focus on African farming. Wade, who has championed efforts to increase agriculture in his West African country, which relies heavily on food imports, said Obama "really has the will to focus on food in Africa." "The United States produces maize and some crops and sends it to people in famine, but the new conception is to produce these crops in Africa and not in the United States," Wade said.


Global Pipeline of New GM Crops

- Crop Biotech Update, isaaa.org

The European Union's Joint Research Center (JRC) has released a new report focusing on the "global commercial pipeline of new genetically modified (GM) crops." The publication provides a detailed list of products in the commercial, regulatory and advanced R&d pipelines.

The implications of asynchronous approval of GM crops for international trade are also highlighted in the paper. This asynchronous approval, brought about by the different authorization procedures in different countries, is of growing concern for its potential impact on international trade, especially if countries operate a zero tolerance policy that may result in rejections of imports that contain only traces of such GMOs.

The paper, authored by Alexander J. Stein and Emilio Rodríguez-Cerezo, is available for download at ftp://ftp.jrc.es/pub/EURdoc/report_GMOpipeline_online_preprint.pdf


Farmers Urged to Move Forward

- Lucy Knight, Stock Journal (Australia) via Truth About Trade & Technology, July 9, 2009

Australia's former chief scientist says the time for debate over genetically modified crops in Australia has passed and farmers need to "get out and talk-up their safety and benefits" or be left behind.

Jim Peacock, who was the country's top scientist between 2006 and 2008, told delegates at the National Farmers' Federation congress in Brisbane that it was time to trust the regulators and get on with growing crops that would have major benefits, not just for farmers, but also for human health and the environment.

Dr Peacock said there were about 125 million hectares of GM crops grown in the world, which was now a significant proportion of the total arable cropping area of the planet. In each of these crops, between one and three genes had been added to the plant's existing 30,000 genes, yet those one to three genes had made a big difference to the plant, in protecting against weeds and insect pests, and now in boosting the health attributes of particular cereal and oil-based foods.

So far, the direct benefits had been to the farmer and to the environment, but GM crops and food products would soon start to have a direct affect for the consumer. In a couple of months time supermarkets would be marketing the first breakfast cereal made from a low-glycaemic index, highfiber barley variety called Barley Max.

Trials showed it to be of "positive value in relation to glucose concentrations in the bloodstream and in the concentrations of fibre in the colon". "This type of barley was first developed by GM research knowledge with the addition of one single gene aimed at stopping the action of another gene in barley, with marvellous results for human health," Dr Peacock said. "The adjustment of the nutritional value of grains and other crop products will be one of the most important strategies in increasing the value and global competitiveness of our agricultural products in the future.

"The adjustment of the makeup of the starches, proteins, oils, and antioxidants in our food grains will be of extreme value to huge numbers of people around the world in preventative health." Changes in these plants meant farmers would also be able to produce what the consumer really wanted to have, and what the market said was needed.

"In these situations there still needs to be full safety testing of the modified plants but I think it's clear that we can expect to have products on the supermarket shelves that will be of value and convenience to the consumer in the future," Dr Peacock said.

"I'm honestly convinced that the time for argument about the need, safety and benefits of GM environment, farmer and consumer - is gone.

It's just not an argument any more. "What we need to do is to make sure that in every single case proposed
there should be the highest possible regime of safety testing and performance testing." It was now time to trust the regulatory authorities, which were excellent, and they should be trusted to regulate food crops in the same way they were trusted with non-food crops, he said.


Risk Necessary for Scientific Progress, Says AC Grayling

- Richard Savill , Telegraph (UK), July 10, 2009 http://www.telegraph.co.uk

An element of risk was necessary if scientific progress was to be made, despite concerns about "meddling with nature", A C Grayling, said.

The philosopher and author told the annual Ways with Words literary festival at Dartington Hall, Devon, that no one should be afraid of "trying to get the benefits of certain possibilities." He said: "Meddling with nature is a genuine concern, for example with genetically modified crops, but it is also the case that human intelligence is a product of nature.

"We are ourselves a product of nature. The things we do to ourselves and to our environment is a natural outcome of the fact that we are creative, intelligent and exploratory. "We should not be afraid of trying to get the benefits of certain possibilities. A certain kind of courage or risk taking is worthwhile."

He said the creation of human sperm using stem cells could help infertile men who would really love to be fathers."
Prof Grayling was the opening speaker at the nine-day festival which is sponsored by The Daily Telegraph. Other speakers include Charles Moore, the Daily Telegraph columnist and former editor, Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, and Roy Hattersley, the former Labour minister.


Lessons in Biopolitics

- Shane Morris, Nature Biotechnology 27, 602 - 604 (2009)

Stefan Rauschen's personal account of genetically modified (GM) plant research in Germany is a worrisome outcome of what is termed 'biopolitics'. GM crop biopolitics can be defined as the process of political risk management, whereby policy makers base their decisions-for instance, whether a given crop harbors potential risks for human health or the environment-on more than just the scientific evidence.

Biopolitical impacts on European Union (EU; Brussels) policy and its regulatory instruments are not new. Indeed, it can be argued that the elaboration of GM crop policy within the EU has significantly relied on policy narratives driven by discourses and epistemic communities that deliberately disregard evidence generated by the scientific community. These narratives, which simplify complex situations, are often used by policy makers to guide their decision-making. This decision-making occurs at the science-policy interface where there are undeniable tensions in the relationship between scientific evidence, regulation and political decision-making7. Although no single model for the science-policy interface exists, a few points that scientists should remember include the following:

* Availability of information does not necessarily translate into policy action; scientific information must also be received, believed, found relevant and useful to the appropriate decision makers. Policy makers must subsequently make the choice to translate the scientific information into action, as well as have the capacity to do so.

* Although scientists are familiar with the concepts of technical risk and uncertainty in a complex world, the public and policy makers often seek certainty and deterministic solutions. Political decision makers tend to want absolutes and certainty (e.g., the desire for the scientifically nonsensical terms '100% safe' or 'risk free'). An example of this is the EU Commission's publicly funded marketing campaign for organic food that directly states organic farming is "good for you." This campaign has preprepared radio advertisements, TV commercials and glossy print flyers but is very short on scientific evidence (http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/organic/toolbox/messages-slogans_en) , as not all organic food is good for you (e.g., organic ice cream or recalled organic product).

* In today's political world, the abundance of unbounded scientific information or data creates at the same time knowledge deficits, as it becomes increasingly difficult to sort and translate the surplus of available science information into politically organized conduct .

* The idea that scientific data are entered into a risk assessment that is free, or nearly free, of policy considerations is considered beyond the realm of possibility . The reality seems that such policy considerations are often biopolitical, and easily based on a fear of negative political fallout or media coverage.

* Political hazards are a real and tangible concern. At the GM crop science-policy interface, the risks of political fallout are now considered alongside the other risk areas of health, environmental, economic and ethical risk. With relative ease, such political hazards can be amplified by anti-GM technology groups and business sectors that commercially benefit from marketing strategies that emphasize 'GM-free' products and practices, such as the organic farming industry and its associated investment community.

In fact, the reason why the EU ignores its own policy on the precautionary principle and focuses its GM regulations so narrowly on the process of genetic engineering rather than on the actual product is predominantly driven by the effort to manage political risks relating to the manufactured GM stigma. This has ultimately led to an unsustainable regulatory framework that is currently facing severe limitations in its ability to regulate new and equivalent risks posed by other, sensu stricto non-GM-based, approaches that can elicit similar effects, varieties and products.

Such approaches include inter alia, the selection of spontaneous mutants (sports); classical chemical and radiation-induced mutagenesis; selection of somaclonal variants; interspecific hybridization, somatic hybridization and cybridization; mutagenesis owing to naturally occurring mobile DNA elements (transposons); novel targeted mutagenesis approaches, including TILLING, zinc-finger nuclease (ZFN) strategies and allele replacement via homologous recombination; heritable epigenetic modifications, such as gene silencing; grafting of non-GM components on genetically modified rootstock and cisgenesis.

Although many politicians show little hesitance in entering the realm of scientific discourse, scientists are traditionally more reluctant to enter the policy arena. This may be due to the old paradigm that 'science and policy should never interact' and that the relationship between technical expertise and policy-making should be conceptualized as a linear conformity between expert knowledge and policy decision. Even so, a new paradigm is needed based on the notion that 'science and policy do and should meet' and the state and scientists need to recognize that science and policy making are two arenas that are not "cognitively and culturally distinct" but are "engaged in processes of constant exchange and mutual stabilization".

Policy does not change on its own; it is engineered. Similar to genetic transformation, there are 'promoters' (e.g., nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and industry) and 'vectors' (e.g., media) that are used to obtain the desired and stable policy 'expression'. As a result, scientists should speak 'truth' (that is, best available evidence) to power, even if that power is professional, political, the media or an aggressive NGO. This, of course, comes at a price.

As Rauschens outlines, a scientist's reputation quickly becomes a target when he c onfronts GM mis- or disi nformation. In my own case, speaking up as a public servant scientist who only has ever accepted public funds led to letters to my employer, intimidating e-mails, defamation (and retractions), comments regarding my wife on an anti-GM website and even a British 9/11 conspiracy theorist politician using the protection of Parliamentary privilege to make false statements to which one has no recourse. These are the daily trials and tribulations that the average politician faces and, though distasteful to most scientists, are ultimately short lived with no real impact. In fact, one only needs a thick skin, knowledge that this is the political norm and an understanding that your actions are legitimate because sense and sensibility will not prevail on their own.

If the science community's goal is to effectively apply scientific evidence and the scientific process to solving global problems, we need to not only recognize that it cannot be an insular polity but also realize those scientists who enter the world of public policy, government, law, and so forth are not deserting science. Moreover, the next generation of scientists needs to be better prepared for realpolitik biopolitics by including policy course work, case studies and government and/or political work experience in formal science training.

In the meantime, EU biotech scientists would do worse than to remember Leó Szilárd's quote: "When a scientist says something, his colleagues must ask themselves only whether it is true. When a politician says something, his colleagues must first of all ask, 'Why does he say it?'"

(for refs - see orginal paper - CSP)

(Genetics and Biotechnology Laboratory, Department of Biochemistry, University College Cork, Ireland. e-mail: shane.morris@student.ucc.ie)


Role of Genetically Modified Crops in Africa

- Dr. Daniel Mataruka, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). http://www.whybiotech.com/?p=915

"During the past decade, Africa's population increased from 760 to 970 million, pushing farmers to encroach on fragile ecosystems. Climate change is increasingly manifest through erratic rainfall patterns, prolonged drought spells, and unprecedented floods, making rain-fed agriculture even more risky, thus aggravating food insecurity among resource-poor smallholder farmers. Compounding this scenario are post-harvest pests that devour their meager harvests. Indeed, the challenges are great, sometimes disillusioning, but certainly not insurmountable. Under these circumstances, GM technologies have a role in addressing challenges that were previously elusive to classical breeding on its own."

Genetically modified (GM) crops conjure up varying emotions worldwide. Nevertheless, their acreage is increasing, reaching 125 million hectares in 2008 (James, 2008). Ground breaking work by Mendel in 1860's took advantage of natural genetic recombination within species, resulting into superior harvests for successive generations. The discovery of Agrobacterium tumefaciens in 1907 offered a unique tool to transfer genes into plants, ushering in a new era of gene transfer across species.

Recently, use of GM technology to produce medicines has risen steeply. Between 2001 and 2006, 60 to 70% of drug approvals in the US and European Union, involved GM technology (Clearant, 2006; EMEA, 2006). Paarlberg (2008), noted that about 25% of new drugs going into the global market are produced using GM technology, while in agriculture, 80% of all cultivated hybrid maize in the US is GM (Cox et al. 2008). In his book Starved for Science: how biotechnology is being kept out of Africa, Paarlberg (2008) further articulates that, unfortunately most African countries have adopted an anti-GM stance, that appears to be influenced by European colonial linkages. Yet, it's the application of science to agriculture that enabled Europe to produce surplus food. Consequently, while Europe may not require GM technologies to bolster their agriculture, they however, readily embrace them for improved healthcare.

But, where exactly is the role of GM crops in Africa? During the past decade, Africa's population increased from 760 to 970 million, pushing farmers to encroach on fragile ecosystems. Climate change is increasingly manifest through erratic rainfall patterns, prolonged drought spells, and unprecedented floods, making rain-fed agriculture even more risky, thus aggravating food insecurity among resource-poor smallholder farmers. Compounding this scenario are post-harvest pests that devour their meager harvests. Indeed, the challenges are great, sometimes disillusioning, but certainly not insurmountable. Under these circumstances, GM technologies have a role in addressing challenges that were previously elusive to classical breeding on its own.

In Africa, benefits from GM technologies have already been demonstrated; in South Africa, under rain-fed conditions, Bt maize increased yield by 11% that translated into US$ 35/ha more revenue (James, 2008). In Burkina Faso, field trials on Bt cotton resulted in a two-thirds reduction in insecticide usage and a 15% higher yield, (Vitale et al., 2008), thus promoting farmers' and environmental health while promoting prosperity. More recently, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation initiated several
public-private partnerships to enhance agricultural productivity in Africa, including the development of:

* Bt cowpea for protection against the Maruca-pod borer with potential to increase yield from 0.3 to 2.5 kg/ha. * Water Efficient Maize for Africa that is expected to provide about 30% more yield under moderate drought. * Nitrogen-Use Efficient Rice for better performance under lower soil N. * Bananas resistant to bacterial wilt in the Great Lakes region of East Africa, where the disease is causing upto 100% crop loss.

There is a romantic notion that African farmers ought to continue using seed they inherited from their ancestors, and not improved seed from conventional breeding or biotechnology. There appears to be safety concerns around the adoption of GM seeds. However, despite over 12 years of increasing adoption of GM crops worldwide, there have been no adverse effects to humans and the environment (EFSA, 2006; James, 2008). Yet, the un-improved seed is the same seed that succumbs to a range of biotic and abiotic challenges, resulting in low productivity and even crop failure. It is the same seed that has ensured that African farmers remain trapped in poverty and reliant on food relief. Although this un-improved seed is a gem, it need not be grown on African farmers' fields in that form, but ought to be improved and/or be archived in gene-banks for conservation of biodiversity.

From the foregoing, the important role of GM technology on modern medicines, attainment of food security and improvement of farm profitability cannot be overstated. Clearly, this technology is complimentary to other classical approaches and not a panacea.


Scientific Flipflop

- Maywa Montenegro, Seed, June 18, 2009 http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/scientific_flip-flop/

'Five experts debate the roots of GM opposition, the role of big agribusiness, and whether we've achieved real scientific consensus. '

Why the opposition to genetic engineering? Our Panel Responds:

* Pamela Ronald, plant geneticist
* Raj Patel, writer and activist
* Nina Fedoroff, science and technology adviser to the US Secretary of State
* Tom Philpott, food writer, farmer, and cook * Noel Kingsbury, horticulturalist and writer

On April 22, 1998 the European Union contravened decades of stalwart opposition to genetically engineered crops when it greenlighted the cultivation of "Mon 810," a pest-resistant maize manufactured by Monsanto.

But despite Mon810's official sanction under EU law, several countries-including France, Austria, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg-have imposed national bans on the GE crop. The most recent addition to this list is Germany, which banned the corn in April, just before this year's seeds would have been sown.

Ilse Aigner, Germany's federal agricultural minister, acknowledged that various federal environmental institutes had failed to come to an agreement about Mon810's environmental risks, but said she was encouraged by the example of Luxembourg, which imposed a moratorium in late March.2

At the European level, scientific assessments have found the risks Mon810 poses to the environment to be exceedingly small. Which is no surprise, perhaps, since study after study after study has concluded that the hazards-both to human and ecosystem health-are no greater with GE crops than with conventionally grown ones.

And yet throughout Europe, pubic opinion appears to be turning increasingly against GE crops. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one source told EUbusiness that if the people were asked about Mon810, "there would be a rejection." "The spirit has changed," the source added. "The legislation in a way is operating like an automatic pilot and we have to put some direction in it."

Most Europeans don't consider themselves to be anti-science or particularly technophobic. In fact, Europe's full embrace of the scientific consensus on another environmental issue, global warming, has enabled the continent to take the clear lead on climate change, with the most ambitious emissions targets, the first carbon trading market, and the greenest urban infrastructure plans on the planet.

Europe's scientific disconnect is more broadly true of eco-minded citizens worldwide: They laud the likes of James Hansen and Rajendra Pachauri but shrink in horror at the scientist who offers up a Bt corn plant (even though numerous studies indicate that Bt crops-by dramatically curbing pesticide use-conserve biodiversity on farms and reduce chemical-related sickness among farmers).

So why the disconnect? Why do many
environmentalists trust science when it comes to climate change but not when it comes to genetic engineering? Is the fear really about the technology itself or is it a mistrust of big agribusiness?


The Case of "Nuclear Rice"

Noel Kingsbury, Seed magazine, June 18, 2009 http://seedmagazine.com.

Noel Kingsbury is a horticulturalist and writer. His latest book, Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding, will be published in October by Chicago University Press.

People are simply not objective or "rational" when it comes to what science they believe, as illustrated by the different attitudes to GM in the US and in Europe. It has been the misfortune of GM technology to have arrived at a time when there is such distrust of science and the wholesale privatization of the crop-breeding industry (it used to be largely state-owned in the US, the UK, and many other European countries).

Most of those who oppose GM crops have failed to separate the two sides of the issue: the control of the technology by corporations and the safety/environmental aspects. During the 1980s mega-corporations like Monsanto, with no history of plant breeding, took over the business and promoting of GM crops. But the technology does not have to be controlled by the likes of Monsanto. One of the biggest investors in GM is the Chinese government, and the Dr. Swaminathan Institute in India is an example of a not-for-profit investing in developing "GM crops for poor people."

The fact is that the scientific case against GM is pretty threadbare. It is far more precise and predictable than some of the most important breeding technologies of the last 50 years. If you get hot under the collar about GM, why not the far more frightening "radiation breeding"? Mention that to most anti-GM activists and they look puzzled. Radiation breeding involves zapping seeds or cuttings with radiation, or treating plant material with gene-altering chemicals. Many countries in the 1960s invested in "radiation fields" where trees were grown behind big earthen dykes so that they would be permanently irradiated. The goal: obtaining mutations that might be useful, as one in several tens of thousands was. The first radiation-bred rice was sold as "Nuclear Rice" in Hungary in the mid-1950s. Imagine marketing that today! Radiation breeding is unpredictable, uncertain in its results, and causes widespread genome damage. But no one has ever suggested that it has ever done any harm! Much Italian pasta has been grown with an irradiated durum wheat. Nearly all Asian pears are the offspring of irradiated grafts. And-get this- much European organic beer is brewed from radiation-bred barley! No one complains or protests. Wake up! Be realistic! Why get so excited by GM?

GM crops must be looked at and judged variety by variety. The first generation Roundup� varieties are giving way to second generation crops with some highly valuable characteristics, like resistance to pests (thousands of deaths by pesticide poisoning have already been avoided by Chinese and Indian caterpillar-proof cotton) and drought-tolerance. Once we start to see soy with omega-3s or nutrient-enhanced tomatoes, attitudes will surely start to change.

World population is increasing, arable land availability is decreasing, and water resources are shrinking. We need every technology possible to increase yields, reduce toxic pesticide use, improve nutritional value, and feed the world. The European and Indian opposition to GM is rooted in a hopelessly romantic view of farming. Farming is not a romantic business-it is about feeding the human race, and we must listen to the overwhelming consensus of plant science-that GM is safe and desirable.


A Little Common Sense, Please

- Nina Fedoroff, Seed Magazine, June 18, 2009

Nina Fedoroff, a geneticist and molecular biologist who developed several modern techniques used to study and modify plants, is science and technology adviser to the US Secretary of State and to the administrator of USAID. She is also a professor at Pennsylvania State University and author of Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Food.

The disconnect between what people worry about and what's true about GM crops is deep and wide-a chasm, really. Is it about the technology itself or is it about all kinds of other things?

With a computer and bit of effort, almost anyone can extract the facts from the gloom and catastrophism. Fact: Modern genetic modification of crops is responsible for most of the crop yield increases of recent years. This means, of course, that the farmers who've adopted GM crops have benefited the most. These already number more than 13 million, 90 percent of whom are resource-poor, small-holder farmers in relatively poor countries.

So far, so good, yes? But there's more.
Insect-resistant Bt crops have reduced pesticide use a lot. Less pesticide means more beneficial insects and more birds. Herbicide-tolerant crops have made big strides in reducing topsoil loss by enabling no-till farming. Keeping the soil on the land and retaining the organic matter and water in the soil supports all the creatures that make for healthy dirt. There is simply no evidence-after 13 years and almost 2 billion acres grown-that GM food is bad for people or animals. Meanwhile, there is ample evidence that levels of contaminating fungal toxins-very bad for people and animals-are much lower in GM corn than in either the conventional or organic versions.

Why would any environmentalist or champion of sustainable farming oppose such progress? Why the anti-GM hysteria?

I think the reasons are embedded in our psyches, and not just those of Europeans. (If they've had more problems than Americans with GM foods, the opposite has been true with food irradiation and stem cells). We kinda like scary stuff so that's what newspapers publish, and that's what we remember (not boring old statistics). This is how urban legends about the bad effects of GM crops and foods get started. There's the widely be lieved "terminator seeds" myth-an idea that earned a bad na me but never got off paper. And then there was the GM corn-kills-Monarch-butterflies story. In reality, in the worst-case scenario, one in 2,500 larvae might be affected by Bt pollen, as compared with the 90 percent death rate of pesticide-sprayed insects. Once rooted, however, such urban myths are hard to dislodge with feeble facts.

From the perspective of the GM critics, the bad guys are "multinationals" and "big agribusiness." Almost everyone's convinced that Monsanto is bad, tantamount to a Monsatan. That European scientists contributed significantly to the development of GM techniques is lost in the hyper-concentrated focus on the US companies who brought them to farmers and are making money doing so. Such "technology transfer" was in the past regarded as a good thing, but has now become a favorite whipping boy of GM critics-especially if there's money to be made. And the anti GM-ers circulate some pretty odd stories: Monsanto's going to "force" farmers to buy its seeds. If farmers keep their seeds to plant next year, Monsanto is going to come and get them. (Um, how's it going to do that?) A little common sense, please.

Then there are the romantic agri-myths, like the "organic" one, which lots of people have bought into. It goes like this: Organic food, farmed using manure instead of chemicals, is better for you and better for the land. None of that's true-nitrogen is nitrogen-but it's pretty good marketing if you're selling poor produce at exorbitant prices. (Organic farming is inefficient, so production costs are generally higher.)

Finally, there's the myth that GM crops are untested. The truth is that they're the most thoroughly tested foods ever to have been incorporated into our food supply.


Parsing Between Corporations and Science

- Pamela Ronald, Seed magazine, June 18, 2009

Pamela Ronald is a professor of plant pathology at the University of California, Davis, where she studies the role that genes play in a plant's response to its environment. She is co-author of Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food.

The community of Davis, California, where I teach, is renowned for its devotion to the idea of local, organic, sustainable foods. As a plant geneticist, I spend my weekdays doing research, surrounded mostly by scientists (some who admit being baffled by continued fears about GM food). As the wife of an organic farmer, I spend my weekends gardening and cooking the produce that my husband, Raoul, brings in from the farm. My lab focuses on genetically engineering rice to give it resistance to diseases and flooding, both of which are serious problems of rice crops in Africa and Asia. My family focuses, at least in the summertime, on eating lots of pesto, which we make by grinding up organic basil from Raoul's farm with the organic walnuts our neighbor gives us. In short, my world is a case study in contrasts, and it's given me an insider's view of perspectives from both communities.

My overwhelming sense is that public skepticism about GM crops, and the foods derived from them, is not about the science-it is about US corporations. Some consumers have not forgotten that Monsanto was a producer of Agent Orange for the US military during the Vietnam War. Others worry that corporations will control the global seed supply.

Still, consumers-whether in Davis or Düsseldorf-need to distinguish between a scientific process (genetic engineering) and corporations. The misdirected protests are an unfortunate diversion from the obvious: We need to feed more people on less land with less water and do it in a way that reduces environmentally harmful inputs. This is a critical environmental issue of our time.

Just consider the case of China: Beginning in 1997, an important change swept over cotton farms in the northern part of the country. By adopting new farming techniques, growers found they could spray far less insecticide over their fields. Within four years they had reduced their annual use of the poisonous chemicals by 156 million pounds-almost as much as is used in the entire state of California each year. Cotton yields in the region climbed, and production costs fell. Strikingly, the number of insecticide-related illnesses among farmers in the region dropped to a quarter of their previous level.

This story, which has been repeated around the world, is precisely the kind of triumph over chemicals that organic-farming advocates wish for. But the hero in this story isn't organic farming. It is genetic engineering.

The most important change embraced by the Chinese farmers was to use a variety of cotton genetically engineered to protect itself against insects. The plants carry a protein called Bt, a favorite insecticide of organic farmers because it kills pests but is nontoxic to mammals, birds, fish, and humans. By 2001, Bt cotton accounted for nearly half the cotton produced in China.

For anyone worried about the future of global agriculture, the story is instructive. With 300,000 people dying each year globally from pesticide poisoning and a predicted 9.2 billion people to feed by 2050, you would think Europeans would be hungering for safe strategies to transform our agriculture into productive, biologically-based systems.

That they are not suggests that they have forgotten the broader goals of a sustainable agriculture: to maximize the health of the environment, the farmer, and the consumer. Legislating against a benign genetic process will not create the transformative changes we need on our farms.

Originally published on http://seedmagazine.com.


Reduction of IgE Binding and Nonpromotion of Aspergillus flavus Fungal Growth by Simultaneously Silencing Ara h 2 and Ara h 6 in Peanut

- Ye Chu et al., and Peggy Ozias-Akins; J. Agric. Food Chem., 2008, 56 (23), pp 11225-11233; e-mail pozias@uga.edu http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf802600r

Abstract: The most potent peanut allergens, Ara h 2 and Ara h 6, were silenced in transgenic plants by RNA interference. Three independent transgenic lines were recovered after microprojectile bombardment, of which two contained single, integrated copies of the transgene. The third line contained multiple copies of the transgene. Ara h 2 expression was significantly suppressed in all three lines, whereas Ara h 6 was reduced in two lines. Expression of peanut allergens Ara h 1 and Ara h 3 was not noticeably affected. Significant reduction of human IgE binding to Ara h 2 and Ara h 6 also was observed. Seed weight and germination data from transgenic and nontransgenic segregants showed no significant differences. Data collected from in vitro Aspergillus flavus infection indicate no significant difference in fungal growth between the transgenic lines and the nontransgenic controls. These data suggest that silencing Ara h 2 and Ara h 6 is a feasible approach to produce hypoallergenic peanut.


Herbicides Make Your Food More Nutritious (and may improve your eye sight!)

First evidence that weed killers improve nutritional value of a key food crop

- Michael Woods, American Chemical Society Via Bites, 08.jul.09


Scientists are reporting for the first time that the use of weed killers in farmers' fields boosts the nutritional value of an important food a crop. Application of two common herbicides to several varieties of sweet corn significantly increased the amount of key nutrients termed carotenoids in the corn kernels, according to a study scheduled for publication in the July 22 issue of ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.

In the new study, Dean Kopsell and colleagues note that farmers grow about 240,000 acres of sweet corn in the United States each year, making it an important food crop. Corn is among only a few vegetable crops that are good sources of zeaxanthin carotenoids. Consuming carotenoid-rich vegetables may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (a leading cause of vision loss among older people), heart disease, and cancer, the study notes.

The scientists exposed several varieties of sweet corn plants to the herbicide mesotrione or a combination of mesotrione and atrazine, another commonly used weed killer, and harvested mature corn 45 days later. Herbicide applications made the corn an even-better source of carotenoids, boosting levels in the mature kernels of some varieties by up to 15 percent. It specifically increased levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, the major carotenoids in sweet corn kernels, which studies have linked to a reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration.

Link to Original paper http://pubs.acs.org/stoken/presspac/presspac/full/10.1021/jf9013313?cookieSet=1

"Increase in Nutritionally Important Sweet Corn Kernel Carotenoids following Mesotrione and Atrazine Applications" DOWNLOAD FULL TEXT ARTICLE : http://pubs.acs.org/stoken/presspac/presspac/full/10.1021/jf9013313


US Survey Reveals Gulf Between Scientists and Public

- Finfacts Team, July 10, 2009

A US survey published on Thursday, shows a big gulf in the views of scientists and the public; when it comes to contemporary scientific issues, these differences are large. Most notably, 87% of scientists say that humans and other living things have evolved over time and that evolution is the result of natural processes such as natural selection. Just 32% of the public accepts this as true. And while there is near consensus among scientists about global warming, it is not mirrored in the general public. While 84% of scientists say the earth is getting warmer because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels, just 49% of the public agrees. 11% of Americans believe global warming is a fiction.

The most startling results may be that 13% of polled scientists do not believe in evolution - - nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time but 87% say evolution is due to natural processes, such as natural selection - - while 16% of them reject the common view in for example Europe, on the cause of global warming.

However, Europeans shouldn't scoff at apparent American ignorance, as many of the public in Europe, have fallen for scaremongering on genetically modified food despite no credible evidence to support claims, while extremists have used violence to prevent research that may debunk their positions.

Survey at http://people-press.org/report/528/