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October 6, 2009


Watch Borlaug Memorial Online now; One in Six; Delicate Balance of Growing More Food; Crazy GM Crop Ban; Seeds of Cooperation


* Watch Borlaug Memorial Online now!
* One in Six
* The Delicate Balance of Growing More Food
* 'Crazy' GM Crop Ban
* Cassava Virus Dealt A Blow In Southern Africa
* India, Pakistan Sow Seeds of Cooperation
* Intellectual Property Is Driving Agricultural Innovation
* GM Food: Risks and Benefits

Watch Borlaug Memorial Online now!

Those who are unable to attend the celebration of Borlaug’s life may view the service live online via live streaming video by going to http://kamu.publicbroadcasting.net/tvstreaming.html

and click on “Watch Now” beginning at 11 a.m. Central Daylight Time (noon Eastern Daylight Time), Tuesday, Oct. 6. It will air locally on KAMU-TV, the public broadcasting station at Texas A&M.

Norman E. Borlaug's awards include Peace, Freedom


COLLEGE STATION – People who attend memorial services for Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Oct. 6 can get a view of a rare collection of medals.

Borlaug was one of only five people ever to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. When he was granted the congressional medal in 2007, he joined Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Elie Wiesel as winners of all three prestigious honors.

Those three medals, along with Mexico’s Order of the Aztec Eagle, will be on display in Texas A&M University’s Rudder Tower on Tuesday, Oct. 6 from 9:45 a.m.-1:30 p.m. The memorial service will begin at 11 a.m. It is free and open to the public. A reception will follow from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in the Rudder Tower Exhibit Room.

The service will be conducted by the Rev. Dr. David Beckmann, Lutheran minister and Bread for the World president. Eulogies will be given by Dr. Robert M. Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense; Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; M.S. Swaminathan, a member of the Indian Parliament; and Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation, who worked with Borlaug to fight hunger in Africa.

Also available for public viewing will be a new collection of video segments of Borlaug recalling various highlights of his career and expressing his opinion of what battles remain in the fight against global hunger. The collection will air repeatedly throughout Oct. 5-6 at the Rudder Tower Visitor Center. It is also free and open to the public.

At 3 p.m., friends and colleagues will gather to share academic insights and the legacy of Borlaug in Koldus Room 110.

Those who are unable to attend the celebration of Borlaug’s life may view the service live online by going to <http://kamu.tamu.edu>http://kamu.tamu.edu and click on “Watch Now” beginning at 11 a.m. Oct. 6. It will air locally on KAMU-TV, the public broadcasting station at Texas A&M.


One in Six

- The Editors, CommonWeal, Oct. 9, 2009 , Vol. CXXXVI, no.17 http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/

When Norman Borlaug died last month at the age of ninety-five, the Economist called the Norwegian-American plant pathologist the “feeder of the world.”

Borlaug’s work dramatically improved wheat production, first in Mexico and then in Asia. It led to the “Green Revolution” of the 1960s and earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. In India alone, wheat production rose from 12 million tons in 1965 to 20 million tons in 1970, the year Borlaug won the prize. Unfortunately, his legacy may scarcely outlive him.

Since 1990, worldwide food production has not kept pace with population growth, and even farmers implementing Borlaug’s methods (planting single crops reliant on the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides) have seen their yields plateau and diminish. The UN now reports that there will be more starving people this year (individuals who will suffer acute hunger all year long) than ever before: 1.02 billion—one out of six human beings.

What happened? For one thing, population continued to grow. Add to that a lack of political will, logistical and structural failures, and the worldwide economic downturn. As a result, food prices rose significantly compared to people’s income. According to the UN, food prices are, on average, 25 percent higher than they were two years ago. Demand and energy costs will keep them there. The situation is aggravated by political instability in parts of the developing world, climate change, greater reliance on food imports, and stagnating wages. It is little wonder there have been food riots in Egypt, India, Haiti, and Latin America.

It is also apparent that the long-term effects of the vaunted neoliberal economic policies of the 1980s have come back to haunt us. The so-called structural adjustments foisted onto developing countries by both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund put a premium on free trade and unfettered markets. But they failed to apply similar restrictions on government-subsidized agriculture in the West. This led to bountiful agribusiness profits but made the developing nations more reliant on imports and subject to sudden price fluctuations. Whereas Africa exported food in the 1960s, today it imports nearly 25 percent of what it consumes.

Perhaps the most succinct diagnosis of the situation was issued by Pope Benedict XVI last summer prior to the G-8 meeting in Aquila, Italy. The problem of food scarcity, wrote Benedict in Caritas in veritate (no. 27), requires long-term solutions that eliminate “the structural causes that give rise to it.” Promoting agricultural development can best be achieved “by investing in rural infrastructure, irrigation systems, transport, organization of markets, and in the developmen--.of the human, natural, and socio-economic resources--.available at the local level.” According to Benedict, that is the surest course for guaranteeing sustainability over the long haul. At the G-8 meeting that followed, President Barack Obama convinced other leaders to pledge $20 billion over the next three years for sustainable agriculture in poor countries. The key, both he and the pope argued, is sustainability.

The great leap forward represented by Borlaug’s Green Revolution was fleeting. It relied on large-scale farming methods more suitable to Kansas than to Kenya: huge tracts of arable land for single-crop cultivation; intensive fertilizer application; ever increasing use of pesticides; and vast quantities of available water. This approach met with initial success, but the price proved high. In areas like the Punjab (India’s bread basket), outlays for seed, fertilizer, and transport soared, and the water table dropped alarmingly—more than two feet per year over the past five years alone. Such “development” was and will remain unsustainable.

International aid groups and some governments have come to the same realization. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, has spent $1.3 billion on third-world agricultural development, a good portion of it for biotechnology and the production of genetically modified seed. But increasingly the Gates Foundation has sought to provide support for local, sustainable agriculture. It is now encouraging indigenous farmers in Africa and funding a local crop-improvement center at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

The U.S. government, in response to lobbying efforts by groups like Bread for the World, has gotten the message. The George W. Bush administration agreed to spend a portion of U.S. aid on buying local crops and improving in-country infrastructure—a policy the Obama administration has continued. The aim is to promote local agriculture, save vast sums spent on long-distance shipping, maintain and improve biodiversity, conserve land, and slow population displacement.

Norman Borlaug’s great project of helping poor nations feed themselves now requires methods different from those Borlaug himself introduced. And it requires good politics as much as it requires good agriculture.


The Delicate Balance of Growing More Food

- Steve Spencer, Weekly Times (Australia), Oct 6, 2009 http://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au

THE global economic slowdown has, it seems, taken only a small dent out of the long-term problem of producing enough food to feed the world.

According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world faces the challenge of producing 70 per cent more food for another 2.3 billion people by 2050. At the same time, it must try to overcome poverty and hunger using limited water resources and also adapt to pressures of climate change.

The numbers in FAO's analysis are dazzling and should excite farmers into making long-term plans to remain good at what they do. Demand for food will continue to grow due to population growth and rising incomes. Demand for cereal crops is expected to reach three billion tonnes by 2050, compared with annual cereal production of 2.1 billion tonnes today.

Meat production will need to increase by more than 200 million tonnes on the current 270 million tonnes by 2050. FAO says 72 per cent of that consumption will be in developing countries as we know them today. FAO says 90 per cent of the growth in crop production will come from higher yields and increased intensity.

But regardless of those efforts, the amount of arable land will also have to expand by about 120 million ha in developing countries. Meanwhile, urban population needs and industrial land use in developed countries is expected to consume some 50 million ha of arable land.

With those incredible predictions, is it relevant to be having debates about genetically modified food and worrying about the impact food production has on producing greenhouse emissions on this barren corner of the world? The numbers worked by the FAO, CSIRO and countless other scientists says the world has already passed the tipping point - we did that in 2007 where we didn't produce enough to feed the planet.

We must be careful with policy decisions that might impose a disincentive on food producers and manufacturers - in the interests of giving lip service to creating an altruistically green society - before the rest of the world has even come to terms with how to produce enough food from available resources and technologies.

We really haven't properly looked at ways of measuring emissions, let alone encouraging mitigation and fair treatment of farming and land management practices. It throws up an interesting issue - do we try to plan for a better world environment in the long term or do we ensure we can feed the human race that is going to live in it?

Clearly the world has to plan to do both in the next few months but we hope politicians with short-term mandates can make courageous calls which balance managing climate change against ensuring their peasant farmers have jobs and their people can buy food.

Do we seriously expect the developing world to thrust their food production industries into a half-baked global emissions trading regime?


'Crazy' GM Crop Ban

- Michael Hamlyn, I-Net Bridg, Oct 5, 2009 http://business.iafrica.com/

AfricaBio, an organisation that is in favour of genetically modified organisms, grown and traded under strict conditions, has a terrible warning for South African farmers. "Look at what is happening in Europe."

Paul Green, a trade consultant from Washington in the US, told a media briefing in Cape Town on Friday that the European Union has banned all GMOs, but has found a tiny amount of GM corn in a soya bean shipment. As a result imports of soya are likely to be banned, which means that very shortly there will not be enough oil seed to maintain animal feedstocks, which will mean that animals will have to be slaughtered.

There will eventually be a shortage of meat, and meat will have to be imported. The meat imports will have been fed on the very same GM corn and oilseed that the anti-GM activist regulators are trying to keep out. Green quoted the EU Commissioner for Agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel as saying: "We are crazy. We are going to put our animal feeding industry out of business."

Joscelyn Webster, of AfricaBio, also had an anecdote about similar problems closer to home. She said that because of "asynchronous" regulation - one country being slower than another to license the growth or trade in GM crops - South Africa has lost a valuable GM crop to Kenya, which was quicker off the mark.

Green is in this country to advise policy-makers and farmers that there is a way around the problem of asynchronous regulation. He said that a multilateral body established by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation of the UN, the Codex Alimentarius, has recently adopted a method for managing the issue when a GM "event" has been through the food safety risk assessment process in at least one other country.

This will provide a "low level presence" guarantee for food, animal feed and processing. It should not provide seed-grain for planting, but it will bridge the gap between the different timing of GM approvals.


Cassava Virus Dealt A Blow In Southern Africa

- Carol Campbell, http://www.scidev.net/ October 1, 2009

South African scientists have engineered plants with resistance to a local cassava virus, potentially safeguarding one of the region's staple crops. The South African cassava mosaic virus is one of seven such viruses affecting different cassava-growing areas of the world. It results in yellow and green patches on the leaves of plants which impede photosynthesis and stunt the growth of the edible tuber.

Sarah Taylor, a researcher in the cassava biotechnology programme at the University of the Witwatersrand's School of Molecular and Cell Biology in Johannesburg, presented her research at the Bio2Biz conference in Durban last week (21–23 September).

She says the new technology could be applied across the southern African region, as the same virus infects crops in Madagascar, Mozambique, the north eastern provinces of South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Resistance to the African cassava mosaic virus has already been achieved (see GM cassava uses viral gene to fight disease). Plants are rendered resistant by altering their genes in a way that disables the mosaic virus once it attacks, said Taylor. The researchers' work exploits a feature of the virus's genetic material — RNA.

Strands of RNA are inactivated when they meet a matching strand, so creating a plant that makes strands of RNA for a given virus gene eliminates the function of that gene — and therefore the virus — once the plant becomes infected and the strands meet. "The plant is still attacked but the virus is unable to propagate and eventually peters out," said Taylor.

The first round of Taylor's research experimented on the tobacco plant, which grows well in the laboratory. Tobacco plants infected with the virus continued to grow normally and the researchers now hope to replicate these results using cassava plants, before moving on to field studies.

Cassava is one of Africa's principal foodstuffs, with every person in Africa estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to eat 80 kilograms per year. The virus is easily passed between plants by whiteflies, which carry the virus in their saliva. One contaminated plant can lead to the loss of an entire crop, with severe infections wiping out 80 per cent of yields, said Taylor.


India, Pakistan Sow Seeds Of Cooperation

- Chetan Chauhan, The Hindustan Times (India), Oct 4, 2009

New Delhi - Genetically modified (GM) cotton may achieve what months of diplomacy between India and Pakistan could not: cooperation between the two countries.

India’s Bt Cotton seeds that helped the country double its cotton production in seven years will soon be available to farmers in Pakistan. Bt or Bacillus Thuringiensis is a bacterium that produces crystals proteins that are toxic to many species of insects and pests.

India’s regulatory body for GM crops, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), under the environment and forest ministry, gave permission to top GM seed companies like Monsanto, Hyderabad-based Bayer Hybrid Seeds and Aurangabad-based Nath Biogene in September to export GM hybrid seeds to Pakistan for trials.

“It provides us a good opportunity to test highly successful GM cotton seeds in a similar geographical terrain in Pakistan,” said Jagresh Rana, director, Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech. “Bt Cotton is grown on the Indian side of border in Abhor in Punjab and normal cotton is grown on a similar soil in Pakistan. One can see the difference. We have no reason to believe that India’s cotton success story cannot be replicated in Pakistan.”

With the approval, the Indian government has put to rest claims in the Pakistan media that India was unwilling to share its cotton success story with Pakistan. “Our bonhomie with our neighbours (Pakistan) on environment issues from climate change to GM is good,” said Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

To improve Pakistan’s standing in the international cotton market, where it is the fourth largest producer after China, India and the United States, Indian companies were the first to get an import permit for testing of Bt Cotton hybrid seeds from the Pakistan government earlier this year.

In Pakistan’s Punjab and Sindh provinces, some untested varieties of Bt Cotton from China are reportedly being grown since 2005 without permission of the federal government. But, its results have not done farmers any good.

“It is a beginning of a new agriculture era in Pakistan,” said Rana Shafiq, general secretary of Past Indian Farmers Forum, a body of farmers from the Punjabs on both sides of the border, welcoming India-Pakistan cooperation on agriculture issues. He, however, added that like in India many civil right groups opposed introduction of GM crops in Pakistan.


Intellectual Property Is Driving Agricultural Innovation, Says CropLife

- Javier Fernandez, Intellectual Property Watch, September 21, 2009. Full commentary at

Summary: With the global population set to exceed 9 billion by 2050 and limited natural resources, food production needs to double if we are to provide food security. Innovation in agriculture will be central to finding ways to help farmers grow more food on less land. Crop protection products already help farmers to increase their yields per hectare and innovation in this area promises to further increase their efficacy. However, plant science companies invest significant amounts in many years of research to develop these products and without intellectual property protection, the incentive to invest in such innovation is severely diminished. Protection of safety and efficacy data along with data confidentiality is a key tool to foster this innovation.

Javier Fernandez of CropLife Latin America explains the importance of protection of regulatory data and its relevance to the bid for food security. CropLife International will also be hosting a discussion on these issues in public-private development partnerships at the WTO Public Forum in Geneva later this month.

The plant science industry commits itself to performing necessary testing and submitting results to regulatory authorities for due product assessment. However, authorities must guarantee adequate custody and traceability of regulatory data to prevent its disclosure during the temporary exclusivity period and after expiration thereof. Mismanagement of regulatory data after submission may irreversibly damage the innovator’s interest in a product supported by the scientific data. For example, retro-analysis of elements contained in a regulatory dataset can help copycat manufactures obtain innovators’ precise formulations. Thus, disclosure of information containing product blueprints would severely hinder the value of innovation.

Recently, public desire to access government-held information has spiralled, placing pressure on data confidentiality. There could be a legitimate interest to review scientific data for non-commercial research, educational reasons, criticism, review or news reporting. However, access to information should not be interpreted as an uncontrolled, free exchange, disclosure capability. A careful balance must be struck between preserving data confidentiality and satisfying legitimate interests in understanding effects associated to plant science products.

Robust, un-politicised and science-based regulatory and intellectual property regimes are policy instruments that benefit society as a whole. When an industry sector, such as crop protection, invests 7.5 percent of their sales to innovate optimal technology solutions for agriculture, an enabling business environment can only serve to improve sustainability and help to achieve the industry’s greater goal of feeding a growing population with dwindling natural resources. Protection of regulatory data is a tool that welcomes industry’s commitment to such social goals by providing the framework to enable and encourage innovation and investment, and countries should not refrain from its implementation.


GM Food: Risks and Benefits

- MS Swaminathan Food & Beverage News, October 06, 2009 http://www.fnbnews.com/

Dr Vandana Shiva (A plate full of toxins, September 11) has done great service by raising important issues relating to the value of recombinant DNA technology in the breeding of crop varieties for resistance to drought and to overcoming micronutrient deficiencies in the human diet.

I was a contemporary of James Watson and Francis Crick at the Cambridge University, United Kingdom, during 1950-52 and I have been following the developments in molecular genetics since the time they initiated the era of new genetics with their description of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953. At every stage in the genetic modification process, appropriate technical tools are employed to assess desired results of expression and integration. The process of creating novel genetic combinations involves the selection of a suitable event after detailed analysis of the gene integration and its stable expression in the subsequent generations as well as analysis on their toxicity, alergenicity and effect on non-target organisms and environment.

During the process of transformation, the gene integrates into the genome of the host cell. Different transgenic events are subjected to such studies as are prescribed by the regulatory authorities. Since there is inadequate confidence in the current regulatory systems and authorities, a committee I chaired recommended in 2004 the establishment of an autonomous, statutory and professionally-led National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority, capable of inspiring professional, political, public and media confidence. Steps are underway to establish such an authority by an Act of Parliament.

As regards drought tolerance, a key gene that allows plants to defend themselves against drought, freezing temperatures and extreme heat has been identified. Although drought tolerance is a polygene trait, there are genes which trigger a series of gene expression that control the drought tolerance trait.
In relation to genetic enrichment of iron in rice, better quality staples constitute an important pathway to overcoming iron deficiency anaemia which, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, affects nearly two billion women, men and children. Naturally occurring mutations, for example the genes involved in quality protein maize, can also be harnessed in breeding work. Crops, particularly vegetables, which are rich in micronutrients should also be promoted.

I have often pleaded for mainstreaming the nutritional dimension in the National Horticulture Mission so that appropriate horticultural remedies can be recommended for the nutritional maladies prevailing in an area. We should not worship or discard a research tool because it is either old or new, but should choose an appropriate mix of Mendelian and molecular approaches to genetic recombination, which can take us to the desired goal surely and safely.

My personal approach to using the science of biotechnology for enhancing human food and nutrition security is what I had proposed in my 2004 report on agricultural biotechnology in the following words: "The bottom line of a National Agricultural Biotechnology Policy should be the economic well-being of farm families, food security of the nation, health security of the consumer, protection of the environment, biosecurity of the country and the security of our national and international trade in farm commodities."

( Dr MS Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is considered to be the father of India's green revolution. The article was first published in Deccan Chronicle.)