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August 12, 2009


Brits Wise Up; Reducing Eco Footprint; Biotech In Organics; Brinjal's Fine; Supercourse; Why So Few GM Products?


* Britain Sees GM Foods as Answer to Self-Sufficiency
* Biotechnology Touted As Key to Reducing Environmental Footprint
* Lobbing Brickbats: Baby Steps Toward Acceptance of Biotech In Organics
* The Brinjal's Fine
* Scientists Seek New Tools to Fight Malnutrition
* GM Farmer's 'Delight' at Inquiry
* Farmers Can Feed the World
* EFSA Wants to Talk to GMO-critics
* EC Survey on GM Food and Farming
* Danforth Center Chair Recognized for His Contributions to Science and Society
* Supercourse: Call For Submissions of Lectures on Biotechnology
* The Contraction of Agbiotech Product Quality Innovation
* Organic 'Has No Health Benefits'
* ,,,,, Organic Food Debate Boils Over as Hate Mail is Sent to Scientist

Britain Sees GM Foods as Answer to Self-Sufficiency

- Jim Pickard, Financial Times, August 11 2009 03:00 | Last updated: August 11 2009 03:00

Genetically modified crops could be part of the solution for making British agriculture more self-sufficient, Hilary Benn, environment minister, said yesterday as the government launched its first review of the nation's food security.

"We need to produce as much food as we can ourselves," Mr Benn said as he encouraged consumers to eat seasonally grown British vegetables - instead of out-of-season imports - as part of a drive to make the country less dependent on overseas producers.

The UK, which only produces 61 per cent of the food it consumes, had experienced a "wake-up call" in recent years with sudden oil and food price rises, he added.

In comments likely to raise fears over protectionism among the UK's trading partners, Mr Benn said he would not ban products such as Spanish or African strawberries but hoped that people would choose to eat more seasonal foods.

Imports from other countries could become increasingly vulnerable to climate change or water shortages, he said. "If GM can make a contribution then we have a choice as a society and as a world about whether to make use of that technology, and an increasing number of countries are growing GM products," Mr Benn said.

"And the truth is we will need to think about the way in which we produce our food, the way in which we use water and fertiliser, we will need science, we will need more people to come into farming because it has a bright future."

The global population is expected to hit 9bn by 2050, requiring a 70 per cent rise in food production to prevent widespread hunger .

Yesterday the opposition Conservative party claimed that Britain's self-sufficiency had declined under the 12 years of Labour government.

"Under Labour Britain has become increasingly dependent on imports of food we could grow ourselves," said Nick Herbert, shadow environment secretary. "It should be a strategic priority of government to increase self-sufficiency in food, yet the government is refusing to take the steps to make this happen."

Mr Herbert said the UK trade gap in food, feed and drink had widened by 52 per cent in real terms between 1998 and 2007 to £15.2bn ($25bn, €19bn).


UK Report on Food Security: Food 2030


A number of challenges are facing the food system - rising population, diminishing natural resources and climate change. Alongside these, diet-related ill health continues to put a burden on the economy and society. These web pages provide an opportunity to discuss the challenges and other issues affecting the food system. They also provide a place to discuss the shape of the future food system. Food 2030 looks both at the food we produce and consume in the UK, and how global food production can be increased in a sustainable way.

We would like to hear your views on these issues so that we can make the food system better for the economy, for our environment and for our health and wellbeing. This forum will stay open until 16 October 2009. Alongside Food 2030 we have also published:

* A 'one-year-on' progress report on Food Matters;
* The UK Food Security Assessment;

* A consultation on a draft set of sustainable food indicators.
In this video, Hilary Benn speaks about the challenges of secure and sustainable food supply.

Add your comments to the Food 2030 online discussion at http://sandbox.defra.gov.uk/food2030/comment-page-1

Dave Wood says: 10 August, 2009 at 3:14 pm

The UK is being left behind North and South America and East Asia in the development and deployment of GM crops, which are essential for us to survive and compete in global food production.

Our government should investigate and, if needed, control the activities of NGOs of foreign origin (Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and others), who may attempt to sabotage our agriculture to favour exports of their home countries.

If we do not do this, first out livestock industry will go under, and then large parts of our arable farming

Biotechnology Touted As Key to Reduce Environmental Footprint

- Tom Doran, Agrinews Online, August 9, 2009

NORMAL, Ill. - Contrary to some beliefs, the first generation of seed traits have created environmental benefits, according to a study by the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.

Kevin Eblen, Monsanto vice president, public policy and sustainable yield leader, said at the International Farm Management Association Congress the study counters claims from those outside agriculture. "A lot of people say that the first-generation traits that were on the market didn't do any good from an environmental standpoint," he said.

Calling the group brought together by Keystone as "diverse" would be an understatement, but, in the end, it worked. The first-of-its-kind report creates a framework for measuring agriculture sustainability "Keystone's mission essentially is to bring unlike minded parties to the table to try to find common ground around issues relating to the environment," Eblen said.

The "Field to Market" study involved 30 organizations, including companies such as Monsanto, Bayer Crop Science, DuPont, John Deere, Syngenta, Bunge, Cargill and others. "But also, and this was very critical to the outcome, there were organizations involved like the World Wildlife Fund, Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society, World Resources Institute, Conservation International and others," Eblen said.

"What this group did is 30 of us got together and tried to not look at the process of agriculture, but rather the outcome of modern agriculture, and are there any benefits from an environmental perspective, and really what has been the contribution if you look at it of the last 15 years or so with some of these first generation biotech traits."

The study focused particularly on the use of corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat in the United States from 1987 to 2007. The report evaluated national-scale metrics over two decades for land use, water use, energy use, soil loss, and climate impact in crop production.

During that timeframe, biotechnology traits have penetrated 80 percent of the market for corn and cotton and about 95 percent for soybeans. The initial index shows the soil loss efficiency trends have improved substantially by 30 percent to nearly 70 percent for the four crops evaluated.

Energy use per unit of output is down in corn, soybeans and cotton production by nearly 40 percent to more than 60 percent. Irrigated water use per unit of output decreased by 20 percent to nearly 50 percent while carbon emissions per unit of output have dropped by about one-third in three crops.

"It showed the dramatic efficiencies that farmers are gaining by putting all the tools to use for corn, cotton and soybeans," Eblen said. "However, in the case of wheat, this is a crop that suffered from really little investment either from a breeding perspective or from a biotechnology perspective, and only in the case of soil losses we've made some gains, and that's primarily due to farmers adopting direct seeding practices over the last 20 years.

"But in the case of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of wheat produced we are actually going the wrong way. This is a message that's endorsed by a lot of very credible (non-governmental organizations) outside of our industry, and I believe it is one of the strongest stories about agriculture and the benefits of putting all of the tools to use."


Lobbing Brickbats: Baby Steps Toward Acceptance of Biotech In Organics

- Hembree Brandon, Southeast Farm Press, August 3, 2009

Allowing organic crop producers to gain certification for biotech crops could encourage the development of a new type of environmentally sustainable agricultural production, with greater benefits for the consumer.


No, says Cyndi Barmore in a report prepared for the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, "The Unexplored Potential of Organic-Biotech Production."

Noting up front that the organic movement rejects biotech "as inherently contradictory to its fundamental goal of promoting environmental protection in agriculture," she nonetheless says, "A governmental decision to change organic regulations to permit the use of biotechnology could have far-reaching policy implications for global agriculture."

While most of the organic community has fought biotech tooth and nail, chinks have begun appearing in the opposition's brick wall, as individuals and organizations in the organic camp say that biotech may not, after all, be The Monster from Hell that is going to destroy Agriculture As Nature Intended It To Be.

Even Stewart Brand, one of the poster children for the environmental movement and publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, according to a New York Times article, now "sees genetic engineering as a tool for environmental protection: crops designed to grow on less land with less pesticide; new microbes that protect ecosystems against invasive species, produce new fuels and maybe sequester carbon."

While the organic community has been lobbing brickbats, the scientific community, Barmore says, has responded that "biotechnology has not created new ills for humanity or the environment" and that "health and environmental concerns are unfounded worries based on unjustified fears."

She notes that independent European Community food safety panels have unanimously reported that Bt corn "is equivalent in safety to conventional corn" and, after six years of scientific examination, a EU commission declared "there was no scientific basis for the EU's ban on new biotechnology."

The commission, she notes, "reported that the primary difference between conventional plant breeding and biotechnology is the higher precision inherent" in biotechnology. Further, the National Research Council says "the accuracy with which plant biotechnologists alter a plant's genes makes the process even safer than conventional breeding."

The policy implications of changing governmental organic regulations to permit the organic cultivation of biotech crops "would benefit consumers and the environment, while reducing the stigma currently attached to biotechnology," Barmore says.

"The two systems have compatible nutritional and environmental goals, and together could create a new form of sustainable production agriculture. Large-scale organic/biotech production would give organic consumers a more affordable product that is better for their health and the environment, and introducing biotechnology into organic agriculture would increase organic yields and contribute positively to the global food supply."

The current system of organic production "discourages attention to productivity," Barmore notes. "Organic farmers ... could use biotechnology to increase yields on existing farms, or to cultivate land that salinity previously rendered unsuitable for production."

A global need for more food for burgeoning populations, the need to cope with climate change and the increasing impact of drought on crops, and the better pest control that biotech would allow for organic crops, are among the reasons to incorporate biotechnology into organic production, she says.

Governments "should change their regulations to allow producers to gain organic certification for biotech crops grown with organic methods," Barmore says. "Such a system would better achieve the organic movement's stated goals of environmental sustainability and the promotion of human health."


The Brinjal's Fine

- Dr. Usha Barwale Zehr Business Standard (India) 31-Jul-2009

This refers to the interview with Mr Gilles-Eric Seralini in your issue of July 17, 2009 where several references have been made to Bt brinjal. I would like to set the record straight.

Tests conducted by Mahyco were as per the government's regulatory requirement and were conducted at third- party institutes in many cases. Studies were conducted as per protocol approved by the regulatory authorities.

All reports submitted to the government are duly signed by the institutes which carry out the tests. Bt brinjal produces the same Cry1Ac protein as has been reported. In addition, the toxicity studies were done using the fruit or plant parts of the Bt brinjal plant, so the protein which is in the plant is the exact protein that got tested in the toxicity studies.

Numerous studies have been carried out on the fate of antibiotic resistance marker DNA from genetically engineered plants in digestive tracts. These show that there is a very low probability of these genes remaining intact.

The safety of the nptII gene in foods is accepted by regulatory authorities around the world. There is nothing 'old' or 'outdated' about what Mahyco bought. Nor does Mahyco have a 'parent company'. Mahyco has a partnership with Monsanto as well as a multi-crop, multi-licensing agreement with several research organisations both in India and abroad.

While examining the energy content, comparison should have been made between Bt and non-Bt counterparts of the same line or same hybrid, and not the averages of different lines or hybrids. The comparison of Bt and its non-Bt counterpart shows that the results are similar.

Diarrhoea was seen in only one female and two males out of ten animals in each group of rats, that too for only four days in a 90-day study. Both Bt and non-Bt treatments show similar responses and the study showed no treatment related statistical differences.

The observation of decreased liver weight and decreased liver to body weight ratio as stated by Seralini pertains to the Dose Range Finding Study. The dose range study is conducted using 3 rats/dose and for short duration (14 days) to select the test dose for long-duration study (90 days) using large number of rats (10 per dose). Hence the data obtained from the main study of 90 days is more relevant than short duration Dose Range Study. In the main study no such effect has been seen. In addition the indicators of hepatotoxicity like total plasma protein, enzymes like GPT / ALT and GOT / AST and Total bilirubin in 90-day study has not shown any difference. Hence the observation in a small group of rats for short duration is not relevant. At necropsy, no gross lesion in liver has been seen.

Bt brinjal has always been compared with its non-Bt counterpart. In all the studies the exact same variety has been tested in Bt and non-Bt forms.

(Dr Usha Barwale Zehr, Joint Director of Research Mahyco Research Centre, Dawalwadi, Maharashtra, India)


Scientists Seek New Tools to Fight Malnutrition

- Betsy Taylor The Associated Press , July 29, 2009

ST. LOUIS - Missouri researchers have launched a new effort in their fight against worldwide hunger: bringing together a doctor who has long treated the malnourished with plant scientists working to improve the nutritional content of food. The group hopes to create a bridge from greenhouses and labs in Missouri to health centers and farms in regions where people die from malnourishment.

Three internationally known organizations based in St. Louis the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the Washington University School of Medicine and St. Louis Children's Hospital have formed the Global Harvest Alliance. The partnership's aim is to create inexpensive, nutritionally complete food to help the world's hungry and undernourished.

Alliance researchers will look broadly at the best approaches to fight malnutrition and focus on a few of them. They'll seek to improve enriched foods already used to treat malnourishment. In addition, the alliance aims to help testing and distribution of crops genetically modified to boost nutritional content. They hope to provide the crops cheaply to farmers to produce more nutritious foods.

"This is not a magic bullet. It's a part of the puzzle to helping people be healthier and have a better life," said Roger Beachy, president of the nonprofit Danforth center, where plant research is aimed at improving health and the environment.

Dr. Mark Manary, a pediatrician who will serve as the alliance's director, said malnourished children in Africa used to be hospitalized and given fortified milk-based treatments. Manary, who has treated malnutrition in Africa for years, has provided an enriched peanut-butter mixture to malnourished children in the sub-Saharan country of Malawi that has led to high recovery rates.

These days, that mixture of peanuts, powdered milk, vegetable oil, sugar, vitamins and minerals is given to parents to feed their malnourished children at home. The new alliance will work to improve such home-based approaches in hopes of distributing them more widely as well as lowering costs. At the same time, the alliance will seek more sustainable solutions. "Prevention is always better than a cure," Manary said.

Since 1999, the Danforth center has spent about $20 million trying to improve the nutritional content of cassava, a staple crop in Africa harvested for its starchy roots. The food may be best known in the United States as the basis for tapioca. Much of the funding for cassava improvements has come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Monsanto Fund and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Researchers have added DNA at the cellular level to enable cassava, naturally low in protein and beta carotene, to produce high levels of those nutrients. Scientists are testing some of the genetically modified cassava plants at greenhouses in Missouri and fields in Puerto Rico. Beachy said many poor families largely live off one type of food, like cassava or plantains, so increasing the nutritional value of such food would help address malnutrition.

Larry Beach, a USAID scientist who helps improve crops in developing countries using biotechnology, knows those working on the alliance, but is not directly involved in it.

He acknowledged suspicions in parts of the world about biotechnology use and outside scientists proposing solutions to malnourishment. "There's been skepticism about providing more nutrition through food because that's not the way it's been done in the past," he said.

But the Global Harvest Alliance will bring together scientists with a track record of helping the hungry and allow them to research specific needs and crops. "One of the big problems in helping to make improvements in nutrition is the integration of what needs to be done," Beach said.


GM Farmer's 'Delight' at Inquiry

- BBC News, August 11, 2009 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/mid_/8194024.stm

A farmer who claimed to have grown genetically modified (GM) crops says he is "delighted" an inquiry has found no evidence they affected other farms. Jonathon Harrington, who farms near Hay-on-Wye, Powys, said in January he grew two varieties of maize and passed the seeds on to two other farmers.

Mr Harrington, of Tregoyd, said he was delighted the inquiry had found he had not breached regulations.
Powys council said there was no evidence that GM crops were circulated. By growing the maize, Mr Harrington defied a Welsh Assembly Government vote to keep Wales free from GM crops.

Following comments made by Mr Harrington on BBC Radio 4's Today programme in January, the Welsh Assembly Government said it could not legally ban GM crops, but had a restrictive GM crop policy.

He denied breaking any laws, but anti-GM campaigners said he had done so by failing to register with the authorities. Mr Harrington said: "I am, of course, delighted that, following a rigorous and searching investigation, Powys trading standards acknowledge that my decision to grow GM forage on my own land in Tregoyd committed no breach of regulations and that I therefore have no case to answer.

"Some 85% of animal feeds in Wales contain GM raw materials and there is also some in foods for human consumption." Last week, Powys council's trading standards service said it had investigated claims that Mr Harrington had passed GM crops onto other farmers to use as animal feed, but had found no evidence they had been circulated to other farms.


Farmers Can Feed the World

- Norman E. Borlaug, Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2009 http://online.wsj.com/

Earlier this month in L'Aquila, Italy, a small town recently devastated by an earthquake, leaders of the G-8 countries pledged $20 billion over three years for farm-investment aid that will help resource-poor farmers get access to tools like better seed and fertilizer and help poor nations feed themselves.For those of us who have spent our lives working in agriculture, focusing on growing food versus giving it away is a giant step forward.
Given the right tools, farmers have shown an uncanny ability to feed themselves and others, and to ignite the economic engine that will reverse the cycle of chronic poverty. And the escape from poverty offers a chance for greater political stability in their countries as well.

But just as the ground shifted beneath the Italian community of L'Aquila, so too has the political landscape heaved in other parts of the world, casting unfounded doubts on agricultural tools for farmers made through modern science, such as biotech corn in parts of Europe. Even here at home, some elements of popular culture romanticize older, inefficient production methods and shun fertilizers and pesticides, arguing that the U.S. should revert to producing only local organic food. People should be able to purchase organic food if they have the will and financial means to do so, but not at the expense of the world's hungry-25,000 of whom die each day from malnutrition.

Unfortunately, these distractions keep us from the main goal. Consider that current agricultural productivity took 10,000 years to attain the production of roughly six billion gross tons of food per year. Today, nearly seven billion people consume that stockpile almost in its entirety every year. Factor in growing prosperity and nearly three billion new mouths by 2050, and you quickly see how the crudest calculations suggest that within the next four decades the world's farmers will have to double production.

They most likely will need to accomplish this feat on a shrinking land base and in the face of environmental demands caused by climate change. Indeed, this month Oxfam released a study concluding that the multiple effects of climate change might "reverse 50 years of work to end poverty" resulting in "the defining human tragedy of this century."

At this time of critical need, the epicenter of our collective work should focus on driving continued investments from both the public and private sectors in efficient agriculture production technologies. Investments like those announced by the G-8 leaders will most likely help to place current tools-like fertilizer and hybrid seeds that have been used for decades in the developed world-into the hands of small-holder farmers in remote places like Africa with the potential for noted and measured impact.

That investment will not continue to motivate new and novel discoveries, like drought-tolerant, insect-resistant or higher-yielding seed varieties that advance even faster. To accomplish this, governments must make their decisions about access to new technologies, such as the development of genetically modified organisms-on the basis of science, and not to further political agendas. Open markets will stimulate continued investment, innovation and new developments from public research institutions, private companies and novel public/private partnerships.

We already can see the ongoing value of these investments simply by acknowledging the double-digit productivity gains made in corn and soybeans in much of the developed world. In the U.S., corn productivity has grown more than 40% and soybeans by nearly 30% from 1987 to 2007, while wheat has lagged behind, increasing by only 19% during the same period. Lack of significant investment in rice and wheat, two of the most important staple crops needed to feed our growing world, is unfortunate and short-sighted. It has kept productivity in these two staple crops at relatively the same levels seen at the end of the 1960s and the close of the Green Revolution, which helped turn Mexico and India from starving net grain importers to exporters.

Here, too, the ground seems to be slowly shifting in the right direction, as recent private investments in wheat and public/private partnerships in maize for Africa re-enter the marketplace. These investments and collaborations are critical in our quest to realize much needed productivity gains in rice and wheat to benefit farmers around the world-and, ultimately, those of us who rely on them to produce our daily food.

Of history, one thing is certain: Civilization as we know it could not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply. Likewise, the civilization that our children, grandchildren and future generations come to know will not evolve without accelerating the pace of investment and innovation in agriculture production.

-Mr. Borlaug, a professor at Texas A&M University, won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to the world food supply.

EFSA Wants to Talk to GMO-critics

European Biotechnology News, August 12, 2009 http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/

Parma - The European Food Safety Authority EFSA invites GMO-critics, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, to a scientific discussion early in September as a reaction to a report issued by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth on the renewal of the existing authorisation for genetically modified (GM) maize MON810 in the European Union.

"EFSA recognises that there are different points of view on the GM technology", it states in a press release in which it comments on the claims made in the report. EFSA says it is aware that the conclusions of the GMO Panel in its scientific opinion concerning the renewal of MON810 may not support the views of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

Furthermore, the scientists note that there are "areas of scientific uncertainty" in their evaluations. But, considering all of the opinions to GMO in their totality would be the task of risk managers and not scientists. In the statement EFSA reinforces its judgement "that the likelihood of adverse effects of the cultivation of MON810 on non-target organisms, such as butterflies and other insects, is very low". Besides, all proteins either present in MON810 or found to be theoretically possible have been investigated, according to EFSA and it therefore sees no reason to raise a safety concern.

EFSA's GMO Panel is made up of scientists, experts in GM risk assessment, from across Europe, who are supported by additional external experts to cover the breadth of expertise required. In addition to standard consultation with all Member States and other competent authorities, EFSA held a special meeting with Member State experts on May 26 in order to exchange views on the environmental risk assessment of GM maize MON810 in the context of the renewal application for cultivation. The cultivation was approved, but several EU Members States have since banned the cultivation of MON810 at a national level.


EC Survey on GM Food and Farming

DG Environment of the European Commission has recently launched an evaluation of the EU legislative framework in the field of cultivation of GMOs under Directive 2001/18/EC and Regulation (EC) N° 1829/2003, and marketing of uses other than cultivation under Directive 2001/18/EC.

The aim of this technical evaluation is to assess the extent to which the implementation of the legislative framework on the cultivation and marketing of GMOs has achieved the objective of protecting human and animal health, the environment and consumers' interest, while at the same time ensuring the functioning of the internal market. This exercise is solely technical. It is not linked to and does not imply any particular policy initiative on the part of the Commission.

The evaluation is being carried out by GHK Consulting Ltd, which operates under the European Policy Evaluation Consortium (EPEC). GHK is supported by Technopolis and by a group of experts. The evaluation will be completed by the beginning of 2010.

The GHK project is concerned with GMO cultivation and marketing only. Comments on the implementation of legislative governing GMOs in food and feed applications are out of scope. A separate evaluation of the EU legislative framework in the field of GM food and feed has been launched by DG Health and Consumers (SANCO).

Register to receive a questionnaire at http://gmregister.ghkint.com


Danforth Center Chair Recognized for His Contributions to Science and Society

ST. LOUIS, MO, JULY 22, 2009 "Dr. William H. Danforth, chair , Donald Danforth Plant Science Center was presented the 2009 American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Leadership in Science Public Service Award during the annual meeting held in Honolulu, HI on July 21, 2009.

The award was presented to Danforth in recognition of his outstanding contributions to science and society. Danforth is Chancellor Emeritus of Washington University in St. Louis, serving as the universityâ€(tm)s thirteenth chancellor from 1971 until his retirement in 1995. While he initially trained as a medical doctor and biochemist, Danforth maintained a lifelong interest in food, agriculture and sustainability, and while chancellor he urged establishment of a strong plant biology program in the Department of Biology, and raised the Universityâ€(tm)s national prominence in the field. Following his retirement as Chancellor, Danforth became the driving force behind establishment of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, MO which has vigorously pursued its mission to improve the human condition through plant science. In just one decade, the Danforth Center has become the largest independent plant science research institute in the world and has quickly become the centerpiece of an innovative initiative that is applying the most modern scientific and business thinking to the age-old problem of providing food, plant, and forestry products to the people of the world in ways that can be sustained for generations to come.

In 2003, Danforth was appointed by then Secretary of Agriculture, Ann M. Veneman, to chair the Research, Education and Economics Task Force of the USDA, which recommended that the United States establish the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) within the USDA. The mission of this institute, which has been authorized by Congress, is to encourage technological innovations in and enhancements to American agriculture.

Dr. Danforth has been committed to research in the plant sciences for many years and plant scientists around the country are very grateful for his many efforts. The success the Danforth Task Force in establishing the NIFA is an outstanding example of how his efforts through the years, have served to raise the awareness of the importance of this field to the future of agriculture and, indeed, of human existence,†said Roger N. Beachy, president, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

Danforth also serves as a director on the Board of Trustees of the Danforth Foundation and is a trustee of the American Youth Foundation. He co-chaired of the Board of Directors of Barnes-Jewish Hospital and served on the Boards of Directors of Ralston Purina Company, BJC Health System and Energizer Holdings, Inc.


Supercourse: Call For Submissions of Lectures on Biotechnology

The Library of Alexandria, Supercourse (http://www.pitt.edu/~super1/index.htm), and the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) are joining forces to create the first-ever virtual repository of lectures on biotechnology. The objective of this partnership is to widen the reach of the best scientific knowledge available on biotechnology so that teachers and learners everywhere may access it.

You can participate by submitting your best Power Point lectures to GKI-Supercourse who are developing the module and uploading the lectures (sara@gkinitiative.org or Ronlaporte@aol.com). Join Nina Fedoroff (Science and Technology Advisor to the US Secretary of State), Ismail Serageldin, Jonathan Gressel, C.S. Prakash, Piero Morandini, Joachim von Braun, Moisés Burachik and many other noted experts in the field who have already offered their biotechnology-related lectures to the module so that others may view them, learn from them, and teach from them.
Building on the success of Supercourse and the Library of Alexandria in developing a module on public health (http://www.pitt.edu/~super1/assist/topicsearch.htm), that has been used by over 500 million teachers and learners globally, GKI-Supercourse is now harvesting the best lectures on biotechnology to launch a Biotechnology GKI-Supercourse Module for the world to access.

To participate we need only ask that you follow a few quick, simple steps to allow us to bring your lecture to the attention of hundreds of thousands of researchers and future generations of scientists:

Step 1: Please send an email attaching your Power Point lecture authorizing us-GKI's Chief Operating Officer, Sara Farley and Supercourse's Executive Director, Ron LaPorte-to use the Power Point you prepared.
Step 2: GKI-Supercourse reviews the lecture to discern what annotation is required, if any, so that a non-expert might understand the content of your presentation from the slides.
Step 3: Once any annotation is complete, GKI-Supercourse may translate select presentations into multiple languages so that researchers, scientists, and learners across the globe can access your work in the language most useful to them. Historically, Supercourse has translated lectures into 10 languages.
Step 4: GKI-Supercourse launches the lecture on the Supercourse site, the Library of Alexandria site, and soon after, the website of the Global Knowledge Initiative.

GKI-Supercourse is thrilled to provide global access to the scientific knowledge you generate so that the best science can be shared widely.

Contact: Sara Farley, GKI Chief Operating Officer: sara@gkinitiative.org; 202-334-2535; Ron LaPorte, Supercourse Executive Director: ronaldlaporte@gmail.com.

Note from Prakash: I encourage you to please consider submitting your powerpoint presentations in agbiotech to this Supercourse. This is a marvellous resource for all of us educators. Please see:


Although the focus is on medical topics, the organizers are now expanding the theme to include food and agriculture issues. See my own earlier presentations that I have archived there from many years ago at


and a recent one on developing drought tolerant crops at


The Contraction of Agbiotech Product Quality Innovation

- Gregory D Graff, David Zilberman & Alan B Bennett, Nature Biotechnology 27, 702 - 704 (2009)
(for reprint: gregory.graff@colostate.edu) http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v27/n8/full/nbt0809-702.html

Agbiotech innovations that directly benefit users beyond the farm gate-such as nutritional content, ripening control or processing characteristics-have not been commercialized to nearly the same extent as pest-control traits like insect resistance and herbicide tolerance. Product quality or 'output' traits have been anticipated since the earliest days of plant genetic engineering1. They are expected to improve public perceptions of genetic engineering2, 3 and make agricultural and natural resource systems more responsive to environmental demands4. The question thus stands: Why have quality-improving innovations from agbiotech not been more readily forthcoming?

Here we address this question through two surveys of the global R&D pipeline, which were undertaken to determine the extent to which product quality innovations have been moving toward commercialization and, thereby, to explore what factors may be affecting the development of this type of application of plant biotech. The primary survey was backward looking, drawing upon published records to reconstruct the histories of 558 product quality innovations (Table 1 and Supplementary Table 1). Three common denominators-(i) the plant species, (ii) the trait and (iii) the innovating organization-were used to define a single 'innovation'. Once identified, a single innovation's development was traced through the various stages of R&D by collating multiple records including scientific articles, field trials and/or regulatory filings that refer to the same innovation. For example, all records of (i) maize (ii) with increased lysine (iii) by the University of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN, USA) were combined to trace the history of that innovation.

A second survey was undertaken that was forward looking, collecting predictions from agbiotech companies and industry analysts about future product commercialization. It identified 49 quality innovations expected by 2015 (Table 1 for a summary and Supplementary Table 2 for full data.) In comparing the 558 innovations in the primary survey to the 49 in the secondary survey, we note that about three quarters of the 558 had already been discontinued and only a portion of those remaining were mature enough to warrant an expectation of commercialization. Thus, the 49 innovations identified in the secondary survey are likely a good representation of what is indeed forthcoming.

The results of these two surveys illustrate the typical filtering or screening function of the R&D process, whereby unsuitable candidates are culled from further development based on technical, safety and economic criteria. Of the 558 innovations identified in the primary survey (Table 1), 355 had entered initial field trials; of those, 51 had gone on to advanced field trials; 14 were submitted for regulatory approval and five were actually commercialized. Only two remain on the market (a mauve carnation commercialized in Australia and Asia and a reduced nicotine cigarette in regional test markets in the United States). Of the 49 product candidates identified in the secondary survey (Table 1) very few had been submitted for regulatory approval. Further attribution during regulatory review and commercialization will probably mean only a fraction of these 49 reaches market.

Activity has been uneven across the ten identified trait categories (Table 1). Traits governing content and composition of macronutrients-proteins, oils and carbohydrates-and traits that control fruit ripening have reached later stages of R&D, whereas fewer products with enhanced micronutrients, functional food components or novel esthetics are expected (as shown in a secondary survey).

Product quality innovation appears to be responding more to demand in intermediate markets for processing and feed attributes than to demand in final retail markets for improved or novel products. Of the 558 innovations identified in the primary survey, 53% are for food processing or animal feed, 23% are for final consumers and another 23% are likely useful to both.

Many of the observed traits offer potential efficiency gains in agricultural and natural resource systems, reducing environmental impacts on the margin both by decreasing input requirements and by reducing negative externalities of crop production, processing or consumption. For example, a significant impact could result from increased nutritional efficiency of animal feeds by, for example, easing land and water resources required for feed production and reducing the offload of excess nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen in animal waste. Major impacts could also result from increased digestibility of plant fibers, by reducing chemical and energy inputs required for pulp and paper manufacture as well as for the emerging production of cellulosic biofuels.

Product quality innovations are advancing in many countries, in both the public and private sectors (Fig. 1a). More than half of the observed innovations arose in the United States, 28% in Europe, 13% in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD; Paris) countries (particularly Japan, Australia and Canada), and 7% in developing countries (particularly India, South Africa, China and Malaysia). In the Unites States, the private sector accounts for over half of the innovations in the pipeline; in Europe, just over a third; in other OECD countries, less than a quarter; and in developing countries, virtually none. Overall, the share of R&D activity in the private sector is correlated with the absolute level of activity in the public sector, suggesting that public and private sector R&D mutually reinforce each other in a country's capacity for commercial innovation.

(a) Location and sector of organizations conducting R&D for the 558 transgenic product quality innovations identified. Private sector consists of corporate and privately held firms. Public sector consists of government research laboratories, universities and nonprofit research institutes. (b) Annual entry, exit and the numbers of innovations active in the R&D pipeline were calculated from observations of the 558 innovations tracked in the primary survey. The number of active innovations stopped growing in 1998, after which those new innovations that entered were more likely to be published and less likely to move toward commercialization.

In general, dynamic models of innovation suggest an S-shaped growth curve is followed in the development of a new field of technology, consisting of an early breakthrough phase, followed by a takeoff or growth phase in which there is rapid acceleration, a slowdown phase as the technology matures and an eventual decline phase. These phases reflect interacting processes of discovery, refinement, diffusion and obsolescence that can stretch over decades. Because the genetic engineering of agricultural quality attributes was clearly in its infancy in the late 1980s, it is reasonable to assume that the field entered its growth phase sometime in the early 1990s, that the rate of innovation would have continued to increase for some time and the rate of innovations entering market would have grown.

Indeed, the survey identifies early breakthroughs in the 1980s in flower pigmentation and fruit ripening control. There was a clear growth phase through the early and mid-1990s (Fig. 1b). Rather than continuing the acceleration typical of a growth phase, however, innovation appears to level off around 1998. Three lines of evidence suggest this is a departure from the expected pattern (see interpretation of results in Supplementary Notes.) First, regression analysis shows that innovations active in the R&D pipeline were growing at an increasing rate during the period before 1998, but declined after 1998. Fitting the data to a quadratic structural equation gives statistically significant coefficients of opposite signs for these two periods, indicating a break around 1998 at which the original upward trend turns down (Supplementary Notes). Second, although the probability of reporting an innovation in a scientific journal increased after 1998, the probability of advancing an innovation through field trials and on to market decreased. At the same time, those innovations that entered after 1998 advanced through R&D at least as quickly as those that had entered before 1998 (Supplementary Notes). Individual innovations are therefore not merely being drawn out over longer time horizons; they are failing to advance to the later stages of R&D. Third and finally, the surveys show that, although only four innovations had reached the market by 1998, 130 innovations were still in the pipeline, only one additional product reached market after 1998. This reduction in commercialization events, despite a previously full R&D pipeline is not characteristic of a typical S-curve slowdown due to technology maturity, let alone a downturn due to obsolescence.

The contraction in product quality innovation indicated by the above analysis is consistent with observations in the literature that overall numbers of transgenic field trials conducted in the Unites States and Europe declined in the late 1990s. It also coincides with the exit from agbiotech of several smaller biotech companies and food manufacturers who were not deeply invested in the technology's 'first generation' of pest control applications (Supplementary Notes).

These trends may be related to several technical and economic factors that have been discussed widely in the academic and trade literatures, given that decisions to continue or cancel R&D projects hinge on whether expected returns justify continued expenditures. Changes can affect either expected returns or expenditures. Technically, traits governed by single genes were relatively easy to exploit, but as more complex nutritional and quality traits involving greater complexities in gene expression were pursued, these likely were more difficult or costly to develop8. Legally, the difficulty and cost of navigating access to essential 'enabling' intellectual property probably increased as more technologies came under patent9. Expected economic returns from transgenic quality innovations may have declined due to competition from reasonably close nontransgenic substitutes, such as bred varieties of fresh tomatoes. Expected demand for transgenic products may have been tempered by growing consumer uncertainties over food uses of biotech, intensified media-focused activism or key public decisions by major institutional buyers like McDonald's.

Although the above factors contributed to the slowdown, the one factor that is presumably most closely related to the observed drop in innovation after 1998 was the halting of regulatory approvals in Europe in 1998 and its repercussions with regulators in other countries10. This suggests that regulatory responses, largely directed at controlling risks of 'first-generation' pest control biotechnologies, may have contributed to a slowdown in developing 'second-generation' product quality biotechnologies: a slowdown that ultimately could prove to have significant and lasting social welfare costs in terms of delayed or foregone innovation in nutrition, production efficiency and environmental mitigation.

In summary, then, the surveys reported here find that a wide array of product quality innovations have been in the agbiotech R&D pipeline. Even so, the data reveal a significant structural shift in the rate of R&D around 1998. Although the causes and impacts of such a slowdown are conjectural, the coincidence of the date suggests that changes in the regulatory environment may have been a cause. The potential welfare-enhancing nature of some of these undeveloped traits warns of potential social costs from foregone innovation.


Organic 'Has No Health Benefits'

- BBC News, July 29, 2009

Organic food is no healthier than ordinary food, a large independent review has concluded. There is little difference in nutritional value and no evidence of any extra health benefits from eating organic produce, UK researchers found.

The Food Standards Agency who commissioned the report said the findings would help people make an "informed choice". But the Soil Association criticised the study and called for better research.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at all the evidence on nutrition and health benefits from the past 50 years. Among the 55 of 162 studies that were included in the final analysis, there were a small number of differences in nutrition between organic and conventionally produced food but not large enough to be of any public health relevance, said study leader Dr Alan Dangour.

Overall the report, which is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found no differences in most nutrients in organically or conventionally grown crops, including in vitamin C, calcium, and iron. The same was true for studies looking at meat, dairy and eggs.

Differences that were detected, for example in levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, were most likely to be due to differences in fertilizer use and ripeness at harvest and are unlikely to provide any health benefit, the report concluded. The review did not look at pesticides or the environmental impact of different farming practices.

Gill Fine, FSA director of consumer choice and dietary health, said: "Ensuring people have accurate information is absolutely essential in allowing us all to make informed choices about the food we eat. "This study does not mean that people should not eat organic food.

"What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food." She added that the FSA was neither pro nor anti organic food and recognised there were many reasons why people choose to eat organic, including animal welfare or environmental concerns.

Dr Dangour, said: "Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority." He added that better quality studies were needed.

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association said they were disappointed with the conclusions. "The review rejected almost all of the existing studies of comparisons between organic and non-organic nutritional differences.

"Although the researchers say that the differences between organic and non-organic food are not 'important', due to the relatively few studies, they report in their analysis that there are higher levels of beneficial nutrients in organic compared to non-organic foods. "Without large-scale, longitudinal research it is difficult to come to far-reaching clear conclusions on this, which was acknowledged by the authors of the FSA review. "Also, there is not sufficient research on the long-term effects of pesticides on human health," he added.


Organic Food Debate Boils Over as Hate Mail is Sent to Scientist

- Linda Stewart, Belfast Telegraph, August 7, 2009 http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/

The scientist who found that organic food is no healthier than conventional produce has been bombarded with hate mail from green activists.

Dr Alan Dangour, a nutritionist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said hundreds of people have contacted him since his controversial literature review was published, accusing him of dishonesty and incompetence.

The research, which found no evidence that organic food was healthier than food produced with chemicals, could hit the £12bn-a-year organic industry at a time when sales are struggling in the recession.

"A lot of them have been unpleasant reading. They were saying I'm a quack, I should do something else and stop wasting my time, but also a lot of stuff saying I must have been funded by Monsanto or big industry," Dr Dangour said.

The Food Standards Agency-funded study, which appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last week, reviewed 50 years of scientific evidence and has polarised opinion between th