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October 9, 2009


Suzuki Mischief; New US Farm Science Chief; Let's All Harmonise; Dow and the Holy Grail: Millions Fed 09/10/2009


* Suzuki Contributing to GM Crop Misinformation Campaign
* Roger Beachy: GM Crop Pioneer Now US Farm Science Chief
* India: Pest-Resistant Bt Brinjal Developed
* Africa Needs to Harmonise GM Laws says Industry
* Monsanto Forecasts Africa to Increase Biotech Crop Planting
* Agriculture investment must increase by 50% : FAO
* Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development
* Dow AgroSciences and the Holy Grail

Suzuki Contributing to GM Crop Misinformation Campaign

- Robert Wager, Modern Times (Canada), Oct 8, 2009 http://www.mordentimes.com/

Once again David Suzuki is trying to mislead the public about GM crops (October 2 Morden Times). He states "Scientists may share consensus about issues like human-caused global warming, but they don’t have the same level of certainty about the effects of genetically modified organisms on environmental and human health!"

This is simply false. Every scientific food safety authority in the world that has looked at food containing GM ingredients have come to the same SAFE conclusion. This includes the European Food Safety Agency, the UN-FAO, the WHO, Health Canada, the FDA, EPA, USDA and the Australia/New Zealand Food Authority. In fact there is not a single documented case of harm from consuming GM food anywhere in the after twelve years.

The IAASTD failed as it was taken over by ideological NGO's. People can learn how it failed by looking up "Why the IAASTD Failed" on Google.

Europeans are far more sceptical about GM crops than people in North America yet their own regulatory agencies have stated the present testing of GM crops and food is adequate. The testing protocols are endorsed by the UN-OECD, Codex and the WHO.

Perhaps the fact not a single case of harm has ever been detected is the reason David Suzuki is trying to denigrate the testing protocols. The myth about antibiotics resistance from GM crops has been debunked by so many researchers it is very surprising that Dr. Suzuki would try to bring it up again.

The precautionary principle is often put forward as a reason to stop GM crop technology. However if one looks at the documented environmental benefits from GM crops, it is very clear this technology should be encouraged not vilified.

There are a great many myths about GM crops and food, and it is very difficult for the average person the separte the real science from the pseudo-science. If people are interested in the real science of GM crops and food please have a look at my website http://web.viu.ca/wager

There one can read some article written for the public with little jargon. Also opinions from what world experts as well as the critics so people can make up their own minds.
Robert Wager, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, B.C.


Roger Beachy: GM Crop Pioneer Now US Farm Science Chief

- Peter Aldhous, New Scientist, Oct 8, 2009

US farm research is getting a shake-up with the creation of a National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to fund academic agricultural research. Its director is plant scientist Roger Beachy, whose research led to the first genetically modified crop. Just two days into the job, Beachy spoke to New Scientist about his ties to the crop biotech industry and how he plans to cut farming's contribution to global warming.

Some scientists and environmental activists are worried about your close ties to the plant biotechnology industry, in particular to Monsanto. How do you respond?

I have never worked for Monsanto or any other company. I've always been in the public sector. However, as I've done my work I've always sought to have a way for it to have it be useful. If a company licenses a technology that I have invented, the likelihood is that it will reach the consumer. At Washington University in St Louis I was one of a large number of scientists that received research grants from Monsanto. But when I went to the Scripps Research Institute in California in the 1990s I had no contact with Monsanto for 10 years.

What do you see as the priorities for transgenic agriculture?
The technology is only relevant if it meets our grand challenges. Let's take sustainable energy: NIFA would contribute as a producer of the feedstock for advanced biofuels – whether it's algae or crops or non-traditional crops such as switchgrass. We'd look to the Department of Energy to instruct us about the composition of cell walls, for example. Then the plant scientists would work to create the right type of material that would work for easier conversion into ethanol or biodiesel.

We also need to consider how to protect the plants from disease and [have them] grow in less fertile soils, and we'd like to do that genetically, not through more chemicals. In some cases the needs would be met by traditional plant breeding. But where there's a need for biotechnology, then you'd use the tools that are available, with the proviso that they all need to go through the process of safety evaluation.

How can NIFA help reduce the huge contribution to global warming caused by farming?
We can expect the agency to set a goal for emissions from agriculture, and this will be achievable. In the 1980s, we had molecular biologists telling us we were going to have nitrogen-fixing corn in 10 years – in hindsight, that's not a very smart thing to have said. So give us a little bit of time to tell what is doable based on science today.

Much of the problem comes from nitrogen fertilisers, which release the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. So we need to ensure that we have crops developed that have the strongest possible transport mechanisms to get the nitrogen from the soil into the plant.

What will be NIFA's priorities in researching animal health?
I won't give you specifics at this point, because I am two days into the job. But diseases that can spread to people and those that might be expected to change with climate will be the focus. We also ought to be setting scientific goals for the prevention of disease. That may mean that we'll need to think differently about how animal production is done. For instance, there are some vaccines we don't use in animal health today: I'm thinking of foot and mouth disease.

And what about plant diseases?
Approximately 5 to 10 per cent of US crop yield is affected by pests and pathogens. These have largely been controlled by controlling the vectors that spread the diseases or by using chemicals. That can be effective, but the issue is sustainability. I am interested in "durable resistance": what kind of genetics should a plant contain to give it a stronger innate immunity? Plants have the ability to make between 200,000 and 400,000 different compounds. Some of these are elicited by attack by pathogens. If we can boost that level of innate immunity we have a greater opportunity to reduce the spread of disease.

How will NIFA help increase crop yields in the developing world?
What we learn about drought tolerance and salt tolerance is going to be transferable – we're quite confident – from maize into sorghum, millet and the pulses.

Another priority is educating the next generation in those countries: we need to find mechanisms that give them the means to do that. There was a programme of building capacity, but it has fallen on hard times because of the lack of resources.

We hope that the private sector could also become involved in donating technologies. The project that is being done by CIMMYT, the international wheat and corn centre in Mexico, along with Monsanto to develop drought-tolerant corn for Africa is a wonderful partnership. I would like to see other companies do the same thing.


India: Pest-Resistant Bt Brinjal Developed

- M. L. Kapur, Times of India, Sept. 21, 2009 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com

DHARWAD: A team of researchers at the University of Agricultural Science (UAS) here has succeed in genetically engineering a widely grown vegetable crop in the country to manage fruit and shoot borer pest with the development of six Bt brinjal varieties popular across three south-western states.

The pest-resistant transgenic varieties of brinjal were developed under a centrally funded project spread over five years, using a process similar to the one used in the development of Bt cotton. Bt brinjal incorporates `Cry1Ac' gene, expressing insecticidal protein targeting the pest larvae.

Requesting anonymity, a senior team member associated with the project told `The Times of India' that when ingested by the larvae, the gene is activated in the insect's alkaline gut and binds to the gut wall, which later breaks down, allowing the Bt spores to invade the insect's body cavity, killing the larvae within a few days.

Fit For Human Consumption
He said an independent monitoring and evaluation committee has visited all the trial locations and submitted its report to the central department of bio-technology. A green signal for commercial release of the transgenic brinjal varieties is awaited. The Central Food Technology Research Institute (Mysore) has cleared it as "fit for human consumption".

An additional advantage of the transgenic varieties over the Bt hybrids is that once a farmer purchases the seeds of the varieties, he can re-use them for subsequent generations (in the case of hybrids, they need to purchase seeds every year). This reduces the dependence on seed supply chain, and in turn, reduces the seed input cost.

Bt Malapur local (S), Bt Manjari Gota, Bt Udupi Gulla, Bt Rabkavi local, Bt Kudachi local, Bt Go-112 and their non-Bt counterparts, along with Aruna as check, were evaluated in three locations at Kolhapur and Gadhinglaj in Maharashtra and at Kallolli Karnataka. Bt Go-112 and Bt Udupi Gulla, along with their non-Bt counterparts, were also evaluated at Brahmavar in coastal Karnataka.

All the Bt local varieties and their non-Bt counterparts were critically observed for levels of expression of Cry1Ac protein, pest infestation, occurrence of beneficial and non-target insects all through the trial period at regular intervals. Other agronomical observations were also recorded and economic benefits of the technology were calculated.

A clear advantage of the technology in terms of negligible shoot infestation and significantly reduced fruit infestation in all the Bt brinjal varieties compared to their non-Bt counterparts was observed. Pest infestation crossed the economic threshold levels in all non-Bt counterparts and the check.

Non-significant difference between the Bt and non-Bt counterparts for non-target insects and original respective traits of local varieties makes them preferred by the farmers. "The breeding scheme has ensured that the fruit and plant traits almost remained as in the original respective local varieties," the team member added.


Africa Needs to Harmonise GM Laws says Industry

- Reuters, Sep 29, 2009 http://af.reuters.com/

CAPE TOWN () - Africa should put aside national interests as the continent moves to harmonise GM laws to boost food security, a senior official at the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) said on Tuesday. The world's poorest continent, where agriculture contributes up to a quarter of GDP in some countries and is an important source of foreign revenue, is increasingly turning to genetically modified crops to bolster food supplies.

But critics and consumers, mostly in Africa and Europe, have questioned the safety of so-called "Frankenstein foods" and have banned their import or cultivation due to fears it could harm humans and wildlife.

"Africa should look at GM crops, not with the purpose of adopting everything, but finding out whether there is anything good to help turn around their food security situation," Francis Nang'ayo, regulatory affairs manager at Nairobi-based AATF told Reuters on the sidelines of the African crop science conference in Cape Town. "The question when you are talking about harmonisation is for people --. to put the region ahead of short-term, narrow and parochial nationalistic interests," he said.

Nang'ayo said South Africa, which first commercialised biocrops in 1998, was one of a handful of African countries that had fully functional legal frameworks for GM crops. The others are Malawi, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Mauritius and Kenya.

South Africa, which planted 1.81 million hectares of GM crops in the 2008/09 season, is Africa's biggest and the world's eighth largest producer of GM crops. Nang'ayo said another 15 to 18 sub-Saharan African countries had interim frameworks, allowing scientists to experiment but not for commercial use.

Other countries, many emerging or still battered by civil strife, such as Somalia, Angola and Sierra Leone, had made no progress at all in drafting regulations. "There needs to be harmonisation (of GM regulations) for purposes of sharing benefits and using the limited expertise that is available," Nang'ayo said.


Monsanto Forecasts Africa to Increase Biotech Crop Planting

- Aya Takada, Bloomberg, Oct. 9, 2009

Monsanto Co., the world’s biggest seed producer, expects African countries to increase planting of genetically-modified crops to boost food security and economic development as the region is affected by climate change.

Burkina Faso plans to double the area planted with the company’s insect-resistant cotton next year from 129,000 hectares (318,766 acres) this year, Natalie DiNicola, director at Monsanto’s public policy and sustainable yield division, said in an interview yesterday. Corn modified to tolerate drought may be introduced to the sub-Saharan region by 2017, she said.

Farming in developing countries needs $83 billion of annual investment for production to feed the world in 2050, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization said in a paper this week. Monsanto is introducing new modified seeds to boost yields as part of a plan to double gross profit from 2007 to 2012. Africa is affected by climate change as more than 95 percent of sub-Sahara cropland is rain-fed, DiNicola said in Tokyo.

“Genetic modification technology will be increasingly accepted by developing countries as they face the problem of how to feed rapidly growing populations,” said Takaki Shigemoto, a commodity analyst at research and investment company TOS in Tokyo. “Crops modified to produce better yields under limited water supply will be attractive to them.”

Developing countries may experience a drop of between 9 and 21 percent in overall potential agricultural productivity as a result of global warming, the FAO said in a Sept. 30 report. Poorest regions with the highest levels of chronic hunger are likely to be among the worst affected by climate change, according to the report.

Crop Planting
Africa is the only continent where per-capita food output is falling, as a lack of investment and technology curbs yields, DiNicola said. St. Louis-based Monsanto is the largest producer of GMO crop varieties.

Area planted with GMO crops, including corn, soybeans and cotton, topped 1.8 million hectares in Africa last year as Egypt and Burkina Faso began production of modified corn and cotton respectively, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. In the western African country, less than 50,000 hectares were planted with modified cotton in 2008, the industry group estimates.

Area planted with GMO cotton rose by more than 158 percent this year, covering about 25 percent of Burkina Faso’s cotton acreage, as the biotechnology is forecast to boost yield by 35 to 45 percent, DiNicola said.

Cotton Farmers
“Cotton is a very important income-generating crop for smallholder farmers,” DiNicola said. Increased yield makes “a very big impact on their livelihood,” she added.

Monsanto’s earnings will fall in fiscal 2010, the company has forecast, ending eight consecutive years of gains as U.S. farmers spend less and Chinese competitors sell cheaper generic versions of its Roundup herbicide. The shares have rallied 6.6 percent this year, closing at $74.97 in New York yesterday.

Monsanto is conducting field tests on corn modified to increase yield under drought conditions for commercialization in 2012 in the U.S., the world’s largest exporter of the gain. The new varieties will help achieve a goal of doubling the crop yield to 300 bushels per acre by 2030, DiNicola said.

The company is cooperating with government and non-profit organizations to develop drought-tolerant corn suitable for Africa and may release varieties in the region five years after the U.S. introduction, she said.

Corn yield in sub-Saharan Africa is about one metric ton per hectare, compared with eight tons in the U.S. and the global average of five tons, according to Monsanto. Drought-tolerant crops could boost African yields by 20 to 35 percent in 10 years, DiNicola said.

“Water is definitely a very serious challenge for agriculture today, and that’s likely to get even more challenging going forward,” DiNicola said.

About 218 million people in Africa, or around 30 percent of the total population, are estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition, according to the FAO report last week.


Agriculture investment in developing countries must increase by 50% to feed 9.1B people by 2050: FAO

- Agence France-Presse October 9, 2009

Developing countries need agriculture investments of $83 billion per year to meet the food needs of a projected 9.1 billion people by 2050, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a report on Thursda .

The $83 billion is a 50 percent increase from current levels, the U.N. News Centre reports, adding, "More than a third of this - $29 billion - would be needed for the two countries with the largest populations, India and China. Regionally, sub-Saharan Africa would require about $11 billion, Latin America and the Caribbean $20 billion, the Near East and North Africa $10 billion, South Asia $20 billion and East Asia $24 billion" (10/8).

According to Reuters, "World agriculture needs massive investments to raise overall output by 70 percent over the next 41 years, including almost doubled output in the developing countries-- Primary agriculture investment needs include some $20 billion a year earmarked for crop production and $13 billion for livestock, the FAO said in a paper ahead of a forum on how to feed the world in 2050 it is due to hold on Oct. 12-13 in Rome" (Kovalyova, 10/8).

The report said, "Required investments include crops and livestock production as well as downstream support services such as cold chains, storage facilities, market facilities and first-stage processing," AFP writes (10/8).

FAO's Kostas Stamoulis said most of the $83 billion should come from the private sector, VOA News reports. "Most of this money, probably 75 percent, will be put by farmers themselves and by the private sector," he said, adding that the public sector "has a very important role to play." Stamoulis said, "[U]nless we provide farmers and food producers and agricultural producers with infrastructure like roads, development and info and institutions they will not invest."

Stamoulis also notes the importance of proper distribution. "So there are two challenges. One is to make sure that we increase the productivity of agriculture to meet all demand for agricultural products, bio-fuels, food, feed, livestock, etc. But also the other challenge is to make sure that everybody by 2050 and possibly earlier should be able to access the food to eat that is produced," he said (Hennessy, 10/8).

Bloomberg, New York Times Examine Food-Related Topics
In related news, Bloomberg reports on incorporating genetically-modified crops in African countries as a way to increase food production. "Monsanto Co., the world's biggest seed producer, expects African countries to increase planting of genetically-modified crops to boost food security and economic development as the region is affected by climate change," the news service writes.

Takaki Shigemoto, an analyst at research and investment company TOS, said that developing countries will become more accepting of "[g]enetic modification technology--. as they face the problem of how to feed rapidly growing populations." Shigemoto added, "Crops modified to produce better yields under limited water supply will be attractive to them" (Takada, 10/9).

The New York Times examines malnutrition in India. Although India's economy is "booming," there is a "ghost at the party, and its name is malnutrition," the newspaper writes. "India is often compared — and often compares itself — with China, but the fact is that as China became an economic powerhouse it greatly reduced malnutrition."

According to the New York Times, "Today only 7 percent of Chinese children under age 5 are underweight, whereas the figure for India is 43 percent. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, which most people assume to have the direst poverty statistics, the average child-malnutrition rate is 28 percent." The article examines the causes of malnutrition in the country and discusses possible solutions (Rieff, 10/8).


Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development

- David J. Spielman and Rajul Pandya-Lorch, IFPRI. Full book launch November 12, 2009

'New booklet highlights diverse case studies of successful policies, programs, and investments in agricultural development that have reduced hunger and poverty.'

Learning from successes in agricultural development is now more urgent than ever. Progress in feeding the world’s billions has slowed, while the challenge of meeting future food needs remains enormous and is subject to new uncertainties in the global food and agricultural systems. In the late 1950s around a billion people were estimated to go hungry every day. Scientists, policymakers, farmers, and ordinary people initiated a concerted push to boost agricultural production and productivity in developing countries. Great strides were also made in improving the quality of food and the ability of vulnerable people to access food needed for survival. All these efforts have done more than just feed millions. They have also demonstrated that agriculture can be a key driver of growth and development for many of the world’s poorest countries.

The world needs to greatly accelerate its progress in reducing poverty and hunger. At present, one in six people worldwide suffers from hunger and malnutrition—a tragically high proportion—and many more cannot afford a healthy diet. And as progress is being made, more challenges are on the way: the world’s population is projected to grow to 9 billion by 2050, climate change is raising risks for farmers, environmental degradation is contributing to poor soils and scarce water, and we still face the same problems that led to devastating volatility in food prices in 2008.

It is also important to remember that the world has already achieved great successes in agricultural development that have fed billions. After all, although a grim Malthusian world once seemed inevitable, some 5 billion people now have enough food to lead a healthy and productive life and the proportion of people who are hungry is falling. The experiences of success that led to this achievement may offer valuable lessons about how to put agriculture to work to solve hunger and malnutrition. Until now, however, relatively little evidence has been available on where, why, and how these interventions succeeded.

To identify and examine successes in agricultural development and draw out the lessons they offer, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) called upon the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to assess the evidence on what works in agriculture—what sorts of policies, programs, and investments in agricultural development have actually reduced hunger and poverty. This project follows on another recent project supported by BMGF and led by the Center for Global Development called “Millions Saved: Proven Successes in Global Health.”

The case studies of success were chosen through a rigorous process that included an open call for nominations, a wide-ranging literature review, and expert consultations. More than 250 candidate case studies were winnowed down using a comprehensive set of criteria that took into account such issues as scale, impact, and sustainability. A committee of recognized international experts provided valuable insights and advice. Ultimately, the project identified 19 proven successes. These spanned from interventions enhancing productivity to combating diseases and pests, conserving natural resources, expanding market opportunities, improving human nutrition, and improving the policy environment. A common thread running through many of these success stories is the confluence of science, policy, and leadership.

Until hunger and malnutrition are eradicated, success cannot be truly claimed. Our hope is that this effort will direct more attention to sound agricultural development investments that cut hunger and to facilitate the scaling up and replication of successes.

Joachim von Braun, Director General, IFPRI

Prabhu Pingali, Deputy Director, BMGF

More at http://www.ifpri.org/book-5826/ourwork/programs/2020-vision-food-agriculture-and-environment/millions-fed-intiative


Dow AgroSciences and the Holy Grail

- Norm Heikens, Indianapolis Business Journal, October 7, 2009 http://www.ibj.com/newstalk/2009/10/07/dow-agrosciences-and-the-holy-grail/PARAMS/post/7436

Dow AgroSciences is crowing about its recent deal with seed giant Monsanto to introduce corn with eight genetically modified traits—more than any other on the market. Talk about anti-insect.

But, Dow AgroSciences, which is based in Indianapolis and is the agricultural arm of Dow Chemical, is straining to catch up in the burgeoning world of genetically modified seed. The farm chemical maker has snagged only about 5 percent of the market, though the share is growing.

What if Dow AgroSciences wanted to go for the Holy Grail? What if it designed a corn seed that sprouted a perennial plant that could produce grain year after year and eliminate the expense, hassle and soil erosion that accompany the planting of seeds every spring? The company suddenly would dominate the market, assuming productivity and other key traits were competitive with conventional varieties.

The notion of a perennial corn is still largely a pipe dream, but someone is bound to figure it out. So why shouldn’t Dow AgroSciences get there first and make the killing?

The reason, believes one of the world’s leaders in perennial corn research, is that the company has little incentive to try.

Wes Jackson, who leads The Land Institute in Salina, Kan., says Dow investors wouldn’t have the patience. And the company ultimately would shoot itself in the foot because long-term demand for seed ultimately would shrivel.

Jackson has been working on the idea for decades to try to improve the environment, and he’s still a long way from the goal. One might think a perennial gene could be inserted and presto, corn no longer would die every fall. But Jackson says the technology is so complex that it would be like trying to turn a human into a monkey.

Jackson is about to ask a West Coast foundation for $50 million to help his institute achieve the dream. His time frame? Fifty years.

However, it’s hard to believe that a company with a profit motive and armies of scientists couldn’t do it much quicker.

If Dow AgroSciences has given perennial corn any thought, it wasn’t apparent to spokesman Garry Hamlin, who ran the idea past internal brass. It’s so far off their radar that none of the leaders had even heard of it.

However, Hamlin certainly agrees with Jackson that such an undertaking would be expensive and time-consuming.

How do you think earth-shaking technological advances should be pursued? Is Jackson right, that only not-for-profits like his have the staying power to get the job done? Or should the private sector and its profit motives, which have long rocked the world with change, be encouraged to follow its nose?

If you ran Dow Chemical, would you launch a search for a perennial corn?

Reader comments - Robert WordenOctober 7, 2009 1:30 PM

While I suppose the idea for perennial corn is technically feasible, it isn't practical. It's a regulated industry, so you would first need to define "perennial". Is that 5 years? 10? Forever? Then you would need to run a trial for at least as long as that time frame to support your claim, and run it in multiple parts of the country to confirm its yield potential in different environments. It would be horrendously expensiv--and what happens if at the end of, say, two or three years you have to re-plant? Your pricing model implodes, even if it's only a portion of the seed that fails. A small percentage of non-regrowth would drive yields down and the whole field would be replanted. What if you want to launch after a two-year study so you get to market quicker? Then you can only make a two-year claim for a product that might last 20, but of course you don't know that. You wouldn't get much of a price premium for that and might not sell that customer more seed for decades. But you would get some unhappy shareholders.