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October 19, 2009


Bill Gates Blames Environmentalists; EU Chief Warns; India Warming Upto Aubergine; Blessing or Curse?; Hillary Chimes In


* Bill Gates Says Ideology Threatens Hunger Fix
* Bill Gates Shifts Focus to Fighting Hunger
* Blocking Biotech Feed Harms Farmers - EU Farm Chief
* India: Panel Clears Bt Brinjal, Govt Nod May Take A While
* Easy Does It
* GM Research on Peas: Field Tests to be Relocated to the USA
* Improved Seeds for Africa, Blessing or Curse?
* Britain Will Starve Without GM Crops, Says Major Report
* Biotechnology Is Key to Fighting Hunger, Clinton Says
* Five Technologies That Could Change Everything
* Global Impact of Biotech Crops: Income and Production Effects 1996-2007
* Recipients Selected for Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program
* Brussels: AgriGenomics World Congress
* Taiwan: International Conference on Agricultural Biotech Frontiers

Bill Gates Says Ideology Threatens Hunger Fix

- Christine Stebbins and Roberta Rampton, Reuters, Oct 15, 2009 http://www.reuters.com

* Fight over GMO crops threatens work on hunger
* Biotechnology one of many tools needed to raise yields
* Gates funding to focus on small-holder farmers
* Working on "royalty-free" drought-resistant maize
* G8 must spell out details of its ag development funding

DES MOINES, Iowa, - The fight to end hunger is being hurt by environmentalists who insist that genetically modified crops cannot be used in Africa, Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of software giant Microsoft (MSFT.O), said on Thursday.

Gates said GMO crops, fertilizer and chemicals are important tools -- although not the only tools -- to help small farms in Africa boost production. "This global effort to help small farmers is endangered by an ideological wedge that threatens to split the movement in two," Gates said in his first address on agriculture made during the annual World Food Prize forum.

"Some people insist on an ideal vision of the environment," Gates said. "They have tried to restrict the spread of biotechnology into sub-Saharan Africa without regard to how much hunger and poverty might be reduced by it."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in recent years has turned its focus to helping poor, small-holder farmers grow and sell more crops as a way to reduce hunger and poverty. The foundation, which has committed $1.4 billion to agricultural development efforts, announced on Thursday nine new grants worth a total of $120 million aimed at raising yields and farming expertise in the developing world.

Funding will go to legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil, higher-yielding varieties of sorghum and millet, and new varieties of sweet potatoes that resist pests, Gates said.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) will get $15 million to help train analysts and encourage farmer-friendly policies on seeds, markets, land tenure and women's rights in five countries that have made strides in developing agriculture. "Externally imposed solutions do not necessarily work," AGRA President Namaga Ngongi told Reuters, noting "people who are likely to live with the consequences of the decisions if they do not work" need to be more involved.

Gates told the World Food Prize forum, which honors people who make major contributions to reducing hunger, that farmers need training and access to markets, not just new seeds. "People are always telling me not to be too naive about the path from the trials to the breakthrough advance to how that will get out to the small-holder," Gates said.

The World Food Prize was established by Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist known as "the father of the Green Revolution" for his work with rice and wheat. Gates acknowledged the first Green Revolution had negative impacts on the environment as it dramatically raised yields. "The next Green Revolution has to be greener than the first," Gates said. "It must be guided by small-holder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and the environment."

The Gates Foundation is working with research partners on drought-tolerant maize using both conventional crop-breeding techniques and biotechnology, Gates said, noting he hopes seeds will be available in two or three years. The impact of those new varieties could help convince skeptics of the benefits of biotechnology, he said.

"The technologies will be licensed royalty free to seed distributors so that the new seeds can be sold to African farmers without extra charge," Gates said. "I hope that the debate over productivity will not slow the distribution of these seeds," Gates said.

He also called on research companies to adapt technology to the needs of small farmers, and to make them available without royalties in the poorest counties. African governments must invest in the work, Gates said, and rich counties that have pledged to increase funding for development must spell out the details of their plans.

"How much is old money, how much is new, how soon can they spend it, and when will they do more?" Gates said.

Full text of Gates speech at http://allafrica.com/stories/200910150780.html?page=2


Bill Gates Shifts Focus to Fighting Hunger

- Javier Blas, Financial Times, October 15 2009 http://www.ft.com/c

Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder turned philanthropist, has put the focus of his multi-billion-dollar foundation firmly on agriculture, saying on Thursday that making poor farmers more productive will have a “massive impact” on hunger.

“Helping the poorest smallholder farmers grow more crops and get them to market is the world’s single most powerful lever for reducing hunger,” Mr Gates said as he announced $120m in grants for agriculture research and development.

The move by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation into ood security after an emphasis on health issues such as malaria signals how agriculture has become a global preoccupation as the number of chronically hungry people tops 1bn.

While the foundation has already provided $1.4bn (€939m, £861m) to food security projects, the new grants and Mr Gates’s speech point to a bigger prominence for agriculture.

“The world’s attention is back on your cause,” Mr Gates told an audience of agronomist, policymakers and hunger activists at the World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, during his first significant address on agriculture. “The food crisis has forced hunger higher on the world’s agenda. From NGOs to the G8 to African heads of state, there is a rush of new commitment.”

The G8s this summer approved the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, committing $20bn to agricultural development in the next three years, in a shift from food aid to long-term investments in farming.

Roy Steiner, who oversees the foundation’s agricultural projects, told the Financial Times the current political climate was a “defining moment for global food security”.

In a consultation paper on the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative released last month, the US state department gave warning that “the 2008 food price crisis illustrates the kinds of disruptions we could experience more often in the future”. The crisis saw the price of commodities such as wheat and rice rise to record highs, with food riots in countries from Haiti to Senegal.

Mr Gates said efforts to help small farmers were endangered by an ideological wedge between those supporters of a “technological approach that increases productivity”, such as the use of genetic modified organisms, and an environmental approach that promotes sustainability. “It’s a false choice,” he said. “The fact is we need both productivity and sustainability.”

He suggested, nonetheless, that technology would be key, saying he drew inspiration from the boom in productivity of the 1960s, the Green Revolution, and criticised those who “tried to restrict the spread of biotechnology. . . without regard to how much hunger and poverty might be reduced by it”.


Blocking Biotech Feed Harms Farmers - EU Farm Chief

- Bate Felix, Reuters, Oct 15, 2009 http://www.reuters.com

BRUSSELS - The European Union's farm chief urged governments to stop blocking imports of animal feed if it contains only traces of banned genetically modified organisms (GMOs), saying such policies harmed the meat sector.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said EU countries should look at scientific evidence rather than emotions, as is now the case, when deciding on authorisations for new biotech products. "The last thing farmers need now is an increase in feed prices. For some of them, it would be the last straw," Fischer Boel told a GMO panel discussion in Brussels on Thursday.

While the EU has approved a string of GMOs -- mainly maize types -- by default rubberstamps since 2004, it does not permit other GMOs, even in minute amounts, until EU approval for that product is given. EU animal feed buyers stopped importing U.S. soy after more than 2000,000 tonnes of shipments to Spain and Germany were found to contain traces of Monsanto's (MON.N) MON88017 and Syngenta's (SYNN.VX) MIR604 GM corn.

Fischer Boel warned that worldwide availability of soybean could come under pressure because of drought in South America, low secondary stocks in the United States and increasing demand from China. "If we let our livestock sector go to the wall, we would simply be in a situation where we import meat from U.S. or South America, fed with GMO feed on which we have absolutely no control. I think that would be the ultimate irony," she added.

Slow-Motion Tennis Match
Production from animal farming in the European Union was worth nearly 150 billion euros ($223 billion) in 2008, contributing to the agriculture food sector which makes up about 4 percent of GDP in EU member states.

Over the last nine years, the EU has imported over 32 million tonnes of soybeans every year on average, essentially from the United States and South America, Fischer Boel said.

Even though the GM corn from Monsanto and Syngenta have been given the green light by the EU food safety watchdog, the European Food Safety Authority, EU ministers have failed to reach a qualified majority on whether to approve it or not.

"For the farm sector, the imbalance in GMO approval between the European Union and the rest of the world is a clear and present financial threat," Fischer Boel said.

"The political decision is being knocked around like a ball in a slow-motion tennis match," she said, referring to Europe's longstanding GMO deadlock. A minority of biotech-sceptic states always manages to prevent a majority consensus, under the EU's complex weighted voting system, from securing new approvals.

The issue will be back on the ministers' agenda on Oct. 19 when they meet in Luxembourg, and it is expected that they will again fail to reach a majority for or against the authorisation, leaving it to the EU executive to make a final decision.


India: Panel Clears Bt Brinjal, Govt Nod May Take A While

- Jayashree Nandi, Times of India, October 15, 2009 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com

BANGALORE: The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee on Wednesday approved Bt brinjal for environmental release. However, it still needs the Union government’s nod before commercial release in the market. If the proposal is cleared, Bt brinjal will be the first genetically modified food in India.

But the government is in no hurry to give the green signal. "I understand the GEAC has approved the environmental release of Bt brinjal. I’ll study the panel’s report before deciding whether it should be given clearance or not," environment minister Jairam Ramesh told reporters in Delhi.

According to the GEAC sub-committee that presented the bio-safety findings of Bt brinjal, the variety has been found to be safe for consumption. "Bt brinjal has been found to be bio-safe for environmental release. There is nothing more I can say about its commercialization," said Ranjini Warrier, member secretary, GEAC.

The government seems to be in no hurry to give the green signal for bt brinjal. The environment ministry was deluged with letters and faxes demanding immediate intervention in the matter.

Dr Pushpa M Bhargava, eminent scientist and Supreme Court-appointed member to oversee matters of GEAC, expressed shock. "It’s a disaster. It’s unethical. No time was given to us as members to review the findings. Why was it rushed? I had suggested to them to invite all stakeholders and have a scientific decision on the matter. But they avoided it. Now the decision lies with the ministry. An ordinance must be passed that labels all GM products. Else commercialization must be stopped."

An official from the ministry of environment and forests said: "The matter is very sensitive. We have received thousands of letters raising questions. The GEAC will submit the recommendations to us but they are not binding. The minister is also not planning to take any decision in a jiffy. Let them present the recommendations first.


Easy Does It

- Editorial, Times of India, October 19, 2009 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com

In a significant first for India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, the country's biotechnology regulator, has deemed Bt brinjal suitable for consumption. That clears the path for it to become the first genetically modified (GM) food crop to be commercially cultivated. Bt brinjal, and by extension all GM food, has been at the centre of a fierce debate over the safety and utility of GM food products. Criticism has focused on the assumption that altering the genetic make-up of a food item is bound to have consequences, which could prove to be deadly.

However, globally and in India, the safety risks posed by transgenic food items have been found to be grossly overestimated. GM food is widely available in countries like the US and Canada, where such food is not even distinguished from traditional food items by labelling. No adverse effects on health have been reported for any transgenic product introduced anywhere in the world so far. Besides, it is a myth that traditional food has no toxic effects. GM food has also been found to have the same nutritional value as unmodified food by various studies.

India cannot afford to ignore technological options to increase agricultural productivity. The Food and Agriculture Organisation, a UN agency, has warned that worldwide food production needs to increase by a staggering 70 per cent by 2050 to prevent mass starvation. A significant chunk of those impacted will be in India. Food production in artificially irrigated areas is levelling off and the country urgently needs a rethink on how to meet the needs of its still-growing and more prosperous population.

Biotechnology could provide the answer. GM foods are high-yield and require less pesticide. Still, it is indisputable that stringent and transparent testing is required before GM foods are released into the market to ensure that they are safe for human consumption. To that end, minister for environment Jairam Ramesh's statement that the government will take a carefully considered decision on Bt brinjal is welcome, as is the request for public feedback on the report.

And the feasibility of labelling GM foods should be considered, to give consumers a choice. That might be a difficult proposal to implement, given that many Indians buy vegetables from hawkers and corner shops. But it may be possible to put this in place in departmental stores and supermarkets. The Union government must evaluate the GM option seriously and with no ideological hang-ups. With proper regulation in place it could solve India's food production problems, now and in the future.



As a plant breeder I can tell everyone that this Brinjal is necessary not because there is a crisis in Brijal production but this will reduce the use of chemicals which kill the insects whihc attack Brinjal. These chemicals are more poisonous than what you can imagine. So minimizing the use of these chemicals is both nature and man friendly. yes there are numerous trials being done between GM and non GM material and any genetically unstable material is discarded.

Please dont belive the fearmongers who still are having a colonial hangover where all their decisions are based on the thinking of colonizers and colonies rather than moving forward into a new age where food sufficiency needs of people are met without more land being cleared for agriculture and more chemicals being used. I am neither attached to any company nor do I make any profit from any company. GM soybeans, cotton, cheese have been eaten for over a decade now and no one has suffered any adverse effect.

These monster stories are spread around by people who have their stomachs full. ask a vegtitable farmer if he prefers to purchase more chemicals or ore expose himself and his family to more dangerous sprays. Let us publish the answer. By the way since time immemorial man has been genetially modifiying crops. If he did not there would not be much to eat today. Have alook at what wheat or rice used to look like. With GM technology only difference instread of large chunks of genes one desired gene is inserted into the plant. Stop the fearmongering.


GM Research on Peas: Field Tests to be Relocated to the USA


(02 October 2009) The Institute for Plant Genetics of Leibniz University Hannover will continue field testing on genetically modified peas in the USA. Head of the Institute, Prof. Hans-Jörg Jacobsen, said that this move was taken because of the threat of destruction of test sites and the politically unstable regulatory framework in Germany.

For some time now, scientists at the Institute for Plant Genetics have been working on disease-resistant and high-yield feed peas. Their cultivation could help reduce dependency on imports of protein feedstuffs. An additional benefit of legumes such as feed peas, is that they enrich the supply of nitrates in the soil, so that less nitrogenous fertiliser is necessary the following year. Up to now, attempts at larger-scaled feed-pea cultivation have failed, mostly due to weather conditions which in some years led to fungus infections resulting in dramatic yield and quality losses.

No long-term solution to the problem has yet to be found with conventional breeding methods. Plant geneticists at Hannover University have been searching in bacteria and other plants for natural defense mechanisms against fungal diseases. Corresponding genes have been transferred to feed peas and various lines have been developed which have shown significantly improved resistance to fungal diseases – however, only in the lab and greenhouse so far. The effectivity of the new resistance concept now needs to be tested in the field. Hannover University has come to a cooperation agreement on this with the US North Dakota State University, provisionally planned for up to 2014.

Prof. Hans-Jörg Jacobsen based the decision to discontinue carrying out field tests of GM cultivations in Germany because of increased administration and costs required for field release tests, which a university institute could not afford. Furthermore, "undisturbed test procedures" could no longer be assumed due to field destruction and the political climate in Germany. This is "unnacceptable" particulary for those young scientists whose theses and doctoral work have been connected with the project.


Improved Seeds for Africa, Blessing or Curse?

- Piero Morandini and Ingo Potrykus. Zenit, Oct. 14, 2009 http://www.zenit.org/article-27202?l=english

'Biologists Underline Moral Duty to Allow Engineered Crops'

There is fear among the media, the public, as well as bishops, that new seed varieties will make African farmers economically dependent on seed companies. This possibility is applicable not only to seeds, but also to many products of biotechnology, as well as of several other technologies.

Most products nowadays are "black boxes." People have little understanding of what happens inside (think of cell phones, TV, engines, etc.) and have therefore little or no control to repair or alter them in any way. For older technologies it is easier, think for instance of a bicycle, because you see all the details and understand the function of each part; you can see the pedals and the wheel, see the chain connecting the two, you could disassemble the brake and the tires and remount them back again.

In one word, you have more control and understanding over this technology, although one must admit you could not create it by yourself. Things such as computers and seeds are much more complicated to understand, and as a result we are less able to either create them, or even repair them ourselves. This increased dependency may not be welcome, but it is quite irreversible and pervasive.

It should not be considered bad in itself, as it allows us to benefit from many technologies, even though we have less control over them. It is thus unjust to express concerns about dependency only with regard to seeds, and specifically to seeds produced through the methods of modern biotechnology (usually called genetically modified or GM seeds).

The sterility question
One of the myths circulating for more than a decade on these seeds reappeared recently in ZENIT in an article by Robert Moynihan.[1] The myth is that seeds of crops produced through modern biotechnology are sterile. This is simply not true.

First, all breeding methods create and use genetic variability to obtain crops with improved characteristics (e.g. resistance to pathogens or pests, better yield, resistance to adverse conditions, such as drought or floods, or tolerant to herbicides) and therefore all crop varieties are significantly genetically modified. New varieties improved by modern biotechnology are thus better described as genetically engineered (GE) crops, because the genetic modification is more precise and predictable than the modifications made in the past.

Second and most importantly, no GE crop on sale to date has been made sterile to prevent farmers from reusing the seeds.

Third, most crops, especially in more developed countries, are grown from commercial seeds. Farmers buy seeds for several simple reasons. In some cases the biology itself dictates the choice: many crops (maize, sugar beet, rice, sunflowers, and most vegetables) are typically or often, depending on the species, grown as F1 hybrids. What that means is that the seeds used for planting are the outcome of a cross between two parents that are similar (usually different varieties, but same species), but distinct for several characters (height or yield, for instance).[2]

The outcome of the cross is usually a vigorous plant, often much more vigorous than both parents, and yields are thus greatly increased.

The strongest example is maize, where yield can increase two to threefold compared to the non-hybrid parents. Unfortunately the vigor of the hybrid diminishes rapidly in subsequent generations.

This is the reason why 99% of the maize grown in developed countries is hybrid maize that is bought every year by farmers. They could well collect the harvested grain and use it for sowing next year's crop, but they know they will suffer a large decrease in yield if they do.

They are able to calculate the economic difference between the two choices (to replant seed or to buy new seed) and the great majority chooses to buy commercial seeds. For other crops, the situation is somewhat different: rice and rapeseed are only partly grown as hybrids, while soybean and wheat are very rarely grown as such.

Even if a crop is not a hybrid, farmers often buy commercial seed because they know seed quality is important. But producing a good seed is a tough job.

Seeds must be pure (free of weeds for example), should germinate promptly, in synchrony and with a high percentage of viability. They should also be free of pathogens (virus, bacteria, molds) and pests, have a good yield and withstand suboptimal or stressful conditions (little rain or too much heat).

If a seed batch lacks some or many of these characteristics, then harvest is at risk. Therefore, there are companies whose business is to produce high quality seeds so that both seed producer and farmer prosper.

Seeds that cost money to produce cannot be given away or the company will cease to exit. It is, however, up to the farmer to decide if the seeds are worth the price and if they will deliver good value. In this regard, farmers usually test new seeds on small plots in one or two growing seasons before buying large amounts for planting. They want to see first if the superior quality touted by the company is real.

If a new variety gains the favor of farmers, then you can be sure that the variety is good and the price is reasonable. The farmers -- the buyers of the seed -- are the ones who decide if a seed and the company that produces it will be successful.

Another myth is that the data is not yet clear on whether or not GE crops are safe for people or the environment.

We have now 15 years of commercial cultivation and more than 25 years of research on GE plants. The approximate number of total GE plants grown so far is around 200,000 billion plants on more than 2 billion acres. To date, this has occurred not only without causing any harm more than that caused by conventional crops, but also reducing it.

Several national and international academies (United States, India, Brazil, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, India, China, Mexico, Pontifical Academy of Science and the Third World Academy) have published positive statements on this technology.

They have particularly stressed well-documented benefits and the further potential to the world's poor farmers. Also numerous scientific societies and international organizations (WHO, FAO) (see [3] for a long, but incomplete list) have reviewed the issues and concluded on the basis of large accumulated experience and thousands of scientific publications, that GE crops present no new or different risks, and can (and in fact, do) reduce or ameliorate some of the negative impacts of conventional agriculture.

The fact that GE crops pose no new risks is exemplified as it follows. There are several herbicide-tolerant crops that have been developed by less precise, conventional techniques, and which have been approved for cultivation without the long and costly process required for GE crops. (The process includes a risk evaluation and regulatory review that lasts between five and 10 years with costs upward of $10 million). And yet, these conventional plants (e.g. rapeseed, sunflower, rice or wheat), cultivated on millions of acres, present the same risks, and sometimes the same genetic modification, as herbicide-tolerant GE plants.

In summary, the data overwhelmingly show that GE plants offer great benefits. They do it today all over the world, and they do it particularly well for millions of farmers in developing countries. In fact, the great majority of farmers using GE crops (90% of about 13 million) are poor farmers from developing countries, some of them in African nations such as Burkina Faso and South Africa.[4]

This is something that people should think twice before spreading falsehood to African people regarding their options for agricultural development. Unconvinced readers are suggested to read Robert Paarlberg's book "Starved for Science."[5]

Given all of the above, we strongly believe that it is not only "a moral obligation to permit these countries to do their own experimentation," as said Father Gonzalo Miranda, a professor of bioethics at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university, but also to provide them with the tools (education) to do it.

Also, it is an unnecessary luxury, and therefore a sin on the part of Western countries, to demand complete safety from a technology when a partly stagnant African agriculture means death and undernourishment for many. Safety for Africa begins with growing more food. Now.

* * *
Piero Morandini is a Researcher in Plant Physiology at the University of Milan.
Ingo Potrykus is Chairman, Humanitarian Golden Rice Board & Network, and Professor Emeritus in Plant Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

--- --- ---

[1] Robert Moynihan, In Africa, Will New Seeds Bring a Better Life?" (ZENIT Oct. 5, 2009).
[2] http://www.isaaa.org/Kc/inforesources/publications/pocketk/Pocket_K_No._13.htm
[3] List of Academies/scientific societies/organizations backing the use of GE crops: http://users.unimi.it/morandin/Sources-Academies-societies.doc
[4] http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/39/executivesummary/default.html
[5] Robert Paarlberg. "Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa," Harvard University Press, March 2008.


Britain Will Starve Without GM Crops, Says Major Report

- Robert Mendick and Patrick Sawer, The Telegraph (UK), Oct 18, 2009

'A new row over genetically modified foods being introduced into our shops has broken out after a Royal Society report recommended GM crops should be grown in Britain.' But the report has sparked a backlash from opponents of GM foods who say they present a threat to the livelihood of small farmers.

They fear the Government will use the 100-page study, due to be published this week, to force the introduction of GM technology back on to the political agenda. Many in the Cabinet and Whitehall appear to be convinced that Britain can no longer resist its introduction into the UK market.

Previous plans to grow GM crops commercially in the UK had to be scrapped following a concerted campaign by environmental protesters and a backlash by consumers who refuse to eat so-called 'Frankenstein foods'.

However, the Royal Society report, which has taken more than a year to compile, is expected to say that Britain should no longer resist their introduction.

A source told The Sunday Telegraph: "The report will say the right GM crops should be used in the future to alleviate food shortages. This study is going to move the debate forward. The Government will have to take notice of this.

"The world is undergoing dramatic change and it won't be long before people are thinking 'where is my next meal coming from?' Where GM has been proved effective at either increasing yields or else resistant to diseases it should be used in the UK. GM crops need to be looked at one by one. They are not the only solution to world hunger but they are part of it."

The report entitled Reaping the Benefits: Towards a Sustainable Intensification of Global Agriculture, was commissioned in July 2008 in response to a UN report which predicted that world food production needs to double by 2050 to sustain a global population expected to reach nine billion.

The remit of the Royal Society working group – made up of eight eminent scientists and chaired by Professor David Baulcombe, Professor of Botany at Cambridge University – was to examine "biological approaches to enhance food-crop production".

The report looks at a series of options to increase crop yields in the UK and around the world by between 50 per cent and 100 per cent, and although GM – the altering of the genetic make-up of a crop to produce better growing results – is only one option it is likely to be the most controversial.

The fear of the effect of GM crops on surrounding harvests led to eco-activists destroying field test sites which was a major factor in forcing producers to withdraw proposals to grow GM in the UK at the beginning of the decade.

Only one GM crop, a type of maize engineered by the American agricultural biotech firm Monsanto, has even been approved for planting in the European Union. It is currently farmed commercially – albeit on a relatively small scale – in Spain. But outside the Europe Union GM crops are grown on as much as 125 million hectares of land, mainly in north and South America and the Indian subcontinent.

However nearly two-thirds of the 2.6m tonnes of soya imported into the UK last year was genetically modified and GM soya oil is widely used in the catering industry. Environmental campaigners are suspicious that the Royal Society report is part of a renewed attempt to force GM crops on to the British public.

They point to an announcement slipped out last month by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Government body in charge of food safety, to hold a new round of public debates on the value of GM. When a similar exercise was carried out in 2003, the public failed to be persuaded of the need for GM.

A Cabinet meeting at the start of the year, which included Gordon Brown, the chief scientist Sir John Beddington and the then chair of the FSA, Dame Deirdre Hutton, is understood to have concluded that Britain's official stance of opposition to GM crops had to be altered.

Cabinet papers leaked at the time showed the government appeared to be ready to go ahead with GM crops despite what it recognised would be considerable public resistance. It is understood the Royal Society report will present the Government with a perfect opportunity to begin the process of winning the public round to GM foods.

A DEFRA spokesman said: "We have not yet seen the report, but we look forward to its release and will read it with interest. Our top priority is to safeguard human health and the environment and always follow the science. We recognise that GM crops could offer a range of potential benefits over the longer term."

But environmentalists said last night that the Society's terms of reference were flawed and accused scientists of using the public's fears over climate change to try to influence the debate on GM.


Biotechnology Is Key To Fighting Hunger, Clinton Says

- Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg, Oct 16, 2009

Biotechnology will play a “critical role” in combating hunger, which has become a global security threat with more than 60 food riots worldwide since 2007, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

Improved technology will be one of the main tools the U.S. will use to help countries produce more food, Clinton said today in a teleconference with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in observance of World Food Day.

Hunger is becoming a larger economic, environmental and security threat, Clinton said. The number of hungry people worldwide reached 1.02 billion for the first time this year, the UN said earlier this week. The U.S. will be “investing in all of the tools that are needed to leverage the skills and perseverance of farmers,” Clinton said.

Food production will have to rise 70 percent in the next four decades to meet the world’s needs, according to the United Nations, even as climate change threatens wheat, corn and rice yields in developing nations. Farming in poorer countries will need $83 billion of investment a year, the UN said last week.

In the past year, developed nations have pledged increased amounts of money for agricultural development and food aid. Last month, Clinton said that combating hunger is a major policy goal, and in July the Group of Eight nations promised $20 billion in food-security aid over three years, a number that’s since grown to $22 billion.

DuPont, Monsanto
The secretary of state’s comments echo those of Ellen Kullman, the chief executive officer of Wilmington, Delware- based DuPont Co., the world’s second-leading seed producer after St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. Genetically modified crops will be crucial to meeting world needs without increasing the amount of land used in farming, Kullman told reporters earlier this week.

Resistance to biotech seeds remains strong in Europe, where some countries rejected the use of genetically modified crops, including BASF AG’s Amflora potatoes and Monsanto corn. Elsewhere, sales are growing. The number of countries where bioengineered crops are allowed rose by three to 25 last year as soybeans, cotton and corn were planted in Bolivia, Burkina Faso and Egypt, respectively, for the first time, according to a February report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.

Food Security
Increased populations and demand for food has led to higher prices and a heightened threat to security in some countries, according to the UN.

Global food prices jumped 42 percent from June 2007 to June 2008, leading to food riots in Haiti, the Ivory Coast and elsewhere, the UN said. Even as costs have since retreated to 2007 levels, the world financial crisis that created more than $1.6 trillion of writedowns and credit losses at the world’s biggest banks contributed to an increase in hunger, Roy Steiner, deputy director of agricultural development for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said last week.

World Food Day, first observed in 1981, is held each Oct. 16 in recognition of the 1945 founding of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. It is designed to increase awareness, understanding and year-round action to alleviate hunger, according to U.S. organizers of the event.


Five Technologies That Could Change Everything

- Michael Totty, Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2009. Full story at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052748703746604574461342682276898.html

It's a tall order: Over the next few decades, the world will need to wean itself from dependence on fossil fuels and drastically reduce greenhouse gases. Current technology will take us only so far; major breakthroughs are required.

What might those breakthroughs be? Here's a look at five technologies that, if successful, could radically change the world energy picture.

They present enormous opportunities. The ability to tap power from space, for instance, could jump-start whole new industries. Technology that can trap and store carbon dioxide from coal-fired plants would rejuvenate older ones.

Success isn't assured, of course. The technologies present difficult engineering challenges, and some require big scientific leaps in lab-created materials or genetically modified plants. And innovations have to be delivered at a cost that doesn't make energy much more expensive. If all of that can be done, any one of these technologies could be a game-changer.
One way to wean ourselves from oil is to come up with renewable sources of transportation fuel. That means a new generation of biofuels made from nonfood crops.

Researchers are devising ways to turn lumber and crop wastes, garbage and inedible perennials like switchgrass into competitively priced fuels. But the most promising next-generation biofuel comes from algae.

Algae grow fast, consume carbon dioxide and can generate more than 5,000 gallons a year per acre of biofuel, compared with 350 gallons a year for corn-based ethanol. Algae-based fuel can be added directly into existing refining and distribution systems; in theory, the U.S. could produce enough of it to meet all of the nation's transportation needs.

But it's early. Dozens of companies have begun pilot projects and small-scale production. But producing algae biofuels in quantity means finding reliable sources of inexpensive nutrients and water, managing pathogens that could reduce yield, and developing and cultivating the most productive algae strains.


Global Impact of Biotech Crops: Income and Production Effects 1996-2007

- Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, AgBioForum, 12(2), 184-208. Full article at http://www.agbioforum.org/v12n2/v12n2a04-brookes.htm (PG Economics, Ltd., Dorchester, UK)

This article updates the assessment of the impact of commercialized agricultural biotechnology on global agriculture from an economic perspective. It examines specific global economic impacts on farm income, indirect (non-pecuniary) farm-level income effects and impacts on the production base of the four main crops—soybeans, corn, cotton, and canola.

The analysis shows that there have been substantial net economic benefits at the farm level, amounting to $10.1 billion in 2007 and $44.1 billion for the 12-year period (in nominal terms). The non-pecuniary benefits associated with the use of the technology have also had a positive impact on adoption (in the US accounting for the equivalent of 25% of the total direct farm income benefit). Biotech crops have also made important contributions to increasing global production levels of the four main crops—adding, for example, 68 million tonnes and 62 million tonnes respectively to global production of soybeans and corn.

This study quantified the cumulative global impact of GM technology between 1996 and 2007 on farm income and production. The analysis shows that there have been substantial direct economic benefits at the farm level, amounting to a cumulative total of $44.1 billion; half of this has been derived by farmers in developing countries. Important non-pecuniary benefits have also been derived by many farmers, which in the case of US farmers added a further $5.1 billion to the farm income benefits derived from the technology. GM technology has also resulted in additional production of important crops, equal to an extra 68 million tonnes of soybeans and 62 million tonnes of corn (1996-2007).

The impacts identified are based on estimates of average impact, reflecting the limitations of the methodologies used and the limited availability of relevant data. Applying alternative assumptions that reflect the extremes of low weed and pest pressure in all years and high weed and pest pressure in all years suggests that the impact on farm income probably falls within a range of -15% to +20% around the cumulative estimate of $44.1 billion referred to above. Subsequent research at the trait-and country-level might usefully extend this analysis to incorporate more sophisticated consideration of dynamic economic impacts and broader (outside the United States) examination of the less tangible (non-pecuniary) economic impacts.


Twelve Recipients Selected for Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program


Winners' Projects Will Benefit Research in Rice and Wheat Breeding Throughout the World

The Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program announced 12 recipients of the program's 2009 fellowships today at the Borlaug Dialogue at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.

Ten nations are represented among the recipients, who are receiving a full package of support to pursue their Ph.D., which will include research on rice and wheat breeding. Projects include cold tolerance in rice, mapping sources of resistance to stem rust in durum wheat and developing biofortified rice for Latin America. A complete listing of the winners and their projects is available on the Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program Web page.

The program honors the accomplishments of Dr. Henry Beachell and Dr. Norman Borlaug, who pioneered plant breeding and research in rice and wheat, respectively.

Monsanto Vice President of Global Plant Breeding Ted Crosbie announced the winners at the World Food Prize, which "recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world."

"The World Food Prize is the best event to announce the recipients, as Monsanto and the Beachell-Borlaug program committee truly believe these young scientists fit the description of the World Food Prize's goal of honoring those who are committed to 'improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world'," said Crosbie. "The students' research work has the potential to help solve critical issues facing two of the most important crops in the world."

Of the 12 winners, five are pursuing their Ph.D. at U.S. universities, two in Australia, and one each in Argentina, Canada, China, Colombia and Italy. The program calls for award recipients to conduct at least one season of field work in a developing country.

The program will begin accepting applications for 2010 beginning Nov. 1. Students interested in applying to the program can find more details at http://www.monsanto.com/mbbischolars . Applications will be accepted until Feb. 1, 2010.


AgriGenomics World Congress

- Brussels, July 8-9, 2010 (Select Biosciences)

Abstract Submission for an Oral or Poster Presentation. Oral Presentation Submission Deadline: 12 January 2010; Poster Submission Deadline: 2 June 2010

Agenda Topics:
* RNA silencing mechanisms in plants
* The use of microarrays and bioinformatics * Optimisation of growth for food and biofuel * Enhancing plant resistance to disease
* Disease resistance in livestock
* Genetic engineering to increase yield from livestock

If you would like to submit a proposal for an oral or poster presentation:


International Conference on Agricultural Biotech Frontiers

- National Chiayi University, Taiwan, October 30-31 2009 http://www.avrdc.org

Join leading agricultural scientists from Taiwan, Canada, Australia, India, Hong Kong, and the USA to discuss issues related to food production, plant gene function and growth promotion, molecular marker mapping, biotic and abiotic stress. Deadline for registration: 26 October 2009.