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November 9, 2009


Market Value of GM: Whatever Happened to GM Wheat; Puerto Rico Haven; Millions Fed; You're A Denialist: Elevating Environmentalism


* The Market Value of GM Products
* Whatever Happened to GM Wheat?
* Bt Brinjal: Technology and Biosecurity Regulation
* Kick-start for Canada's Agbio
* Puerto Rico GM Crop Haven
* Refusing GMOs? Maybe You're A 'Denialist'
* Agricultural Successes Provide Roadmap for Ending Hunger
* ISU On Line Seed Tech and Business Graduate Program
* Elevating Environmentalism Over 'Less Worthy' Lifestyles


The Market Value of GM Products

- Rob Carlson, Nature Biotechnology 27, 984 (2009) <http://www.nature.com/nbt/>http://www.nature.com/nbt/

To the Editor: I am writing to point out that the Data Page published in the March issue 1 substantially underestimates the market value of transgenic crops. Using a more accurate estimate dramatically changes the fraction of US gross domestic product (GDP) that can be attributed to genetically modified (GM) systems.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA; New York), the data displayed in the upper left graph on p. 221 is explicitly from seeds and licensing revenues rather than from 'crops'2, which have much greater market value. Worldwide farm-scale revenues from GM crops are difficult to assess directly, but good data are available for the United States. The Economic Research Service reports that 80-90% of all corn, soy, and cotton grown in the United States is transgenenic (<http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/BiotechCrops/>http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/BiotechCrops/), whereas the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) reports total revenues for these crops at more than $110 billion (<http://www.nass.usda.gov/Data_and_Statistics/Quick_Stats/index.asp>http://www.nass.usda.gov/Data_and_Statistics/Quick_Stats/index.asp).

Taken together, the reports enable an estimation of the revenues from the major GM crops at about $65 billion in 2008 (Fig. 1). The data demonstrate substantial fluctuations in revenues due to changes in annual prices, even as the fraction of GM crops planted continues to increase. The ISAAA reports that about half of all transgenic seeds were planted in the United States 2, and if one assumes that prices paid for crops in the United States are representative of global averages, then global farm-scale revenues from GM corn, soy and cotton in 2008 were about $130 billion.

Figure 1: US Revenues from major GM crops.

Combining these adjusted crop revenue figures with contributions from GM drugs ('biologics') and GM industrial products (fuels, materials, enzymes) that I have previously estimated 3 reveals that US revenues from GM products were approx $240 billion in 2007 and are growing at 15-20% annually. Given the predicted stagnant US GDP, which is estimated at about $14.3 trillion in 2008, revenues from GM systems could amount to the equivalent of about 2% of US GDP in 2009.

1. Marshall, A. Nat. Biotechnol. 27, 221 (2009).
2. James, C. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2008, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. ISAAA Brief No. 39 (ISAAA: Ithaca, NY, 2009).
3. Carlson, R. Syst. Synth. Biol. 1, 109-117 (2007).

Biodesic, Seattle, Washington, USA. rob@biodesic.com

Whatever Happened to GM Wheat?

- Jeffrey L Fox, Nature Biotechnology 27, 974 - 976 (2009) <http://www.nature.com/nbt/>http://www.nature.com/nbt/

Agribusiness is taking another run at transgenic wheat after shelving its programs five years ago because of concerns from farmers, trade organizations and even state governments about market acceptance. Will there be a market this time? Jeffrey Fox investigates

With its mid-July acquisition of WestBred, of Butte, Montana, St. Louis-based Monsanto jumped back into the genetically modified (GM) wheat business, anticipating commercial wheat crops within a decade. A few days later, Bayer CropScience of Monheim, Germany, announced a GM-wheat development alliance with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Clayton South, Victoria, Australia, promising to bring "solutions" to wheat growers as early as 2015. And some expect the Chinese to begin planting GM wheat on a commercial scale perhaps sooner than any of their Western counterparts.

Such developments mark a turnabout from five years ago when Monsanto dropped development of its Roundup-Ready (RR) winter wheat like a hot potato. Poised for regulatory approval and with commercial sales of its GM-wheat seeds imminent, the company found itself faced with a fractious group of wheat growers and what seemed an intransigent marketplace. The main resistance came not from consumers, but from wheat growers in the US and Canada, whose concerns about losing lucrative export markets overwhelmed a then-minority contingent seeking access to herbicide-tolerant wheat.

But although resistance to GM wheat may be waning, it has not yet dissipated, particularly in key Asian markets for the US crop. Surveys show that three-quarters of US wheat growers support GM wheat1, yet resistance to GM wheat still persists among Canadian wheat farmers2. And opposition from consumer groups remains steadfast. In June, a US, Canadian and Australian coalition released a joint statement that deems such crops "a calamity"3.

Wheat is a major global crop that, according to some estimates, accounts for as much as one-fourth of all cultivated land. Even so, US wheat production has followed a consistent downward trend for the past 30 years, according to Daren Coppock, who heads The National Association of Wheat Growers in Washington, DC. That trend has contributed to recent production shortfalls.

"The US produces from 1.3 to 2 billion bushels per year, half of which is exported," Coppock says. Although prices range widely and depend on grade, type and quality of wheat, a conservative average price of $5 per bushel puts the annual US wheat crop as being worth $10 billion and bringing in as much as $5 billion through international trade. "China is the biggest producer globally, but it consumes all it produces," he adds.

India is next in line, and it, too, consumes virtually all the wheat it produces, according to Hans-Joachim Braun, director of the Global Wheat Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), headquartered in Texcoco, Mexico. The US is next on this list, followed by Canada, Australia and Argentina, all of which, like the US, both export and consume wheat.

Wheat and corn are locked in competition as the chief field crops worldwide, with corn in the lead and lately gaining ground both literally and figuratively. Although about equal acres are planted in corn and wheat worldwide, annual global production of corn is about 750 million tons, roughly 100 million tons more than wheat, according to Braun. Lately, growers are planting corn in regions, including parts of Kansas and North Dakota, that once were devoted to wheat. Such inroads worry wheat producers, some of whom say that conventional breeding efforts for wheat simply are not keeping pace with corn. In addition, wheat growers struggle against productivity losses in regions such as the northern plains, where rain is scarce and irrigation costly.

A similar imbalance shows up in both private and public investments in research for the two crops, Braun says. "Companies allocate huge sums for maize [corn], whereas no one comes close with wheat." One consequence is that corn yields are rising faster than those for wheat. "We need annual increases of about 1.6% to produce enough wheat to keep up with food demand, but it's not increasing very much," he says. Meanwhile, corn continues to more than meet that yield-increase threshold, which helps it keep pace with rising demand for its use as feed for food animals and recently as a fuel feedstock, an end use for which wheat is unsuited.

"When Monsanto pulled back from developing RR wheat, it had a negative effect," says Peggy Lemaux of the University of California, Berkeley, referring to both private and public wheat research programs. Although research on wheat continues in the public sector, much of its focus is on marker-assisted breeding and the development of molecular tools that further that approach, she says. "People are reluctant to pursue GM wheat [because] they want the community to be receptive."

The federal government began supporting GM-wheat research about 15 years ago, and "wheat growers encouraged us to advance this technology," says Kay Simmons of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Beltsville, Maryland. Overall, the department invests about $40 million annually in such research, supporting about 125 programs both at ARS sites and at universities, mainly in western and midwestern states. Some research focuses on improving grain quality, other projects look at disease and drought resistance, and still others at tissue-specific gene expression. A few projects have led to field-trial applications, including from the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Montana State University in Bozeman and the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. USDA also fosters a US-China collaborative project on wheat, centered at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, with an emphasis on conventional and marker-assisted breeding, she says.

Despite that volume of activity, "taking a trait through development and the federal deregulatory program costs about $30 million," says agronomist William Wilson of North Dakota State University in Fargo. Others estimate the cost of full commercial development of a GM crop line to be as high as $100 million. Coming up with such investments is "too difficult for a land-grant college to swallow," says Wilson. Although activities continue, US field trials for transgenic wheat "peaked in 2000, and declined to about nil in 2009," he says. It remains "difficult for universities to get involved doing GM-wheat research," adds Jim Peterson, an expert in wheat breeding at Oregon State University (OSU) in Corvallis. "It's okay to do marker discovery, but the regulatory hurdles [doing GM research] means you need private partners."

Plant scientist Jorge Dubcovsky at the University of California, Davis, agrees, noting that he and his collaborators developed and continue to evaluate a series of transgenic wheat (and barley) lines. "In the public sector, I am aware of transgenics for research only," he says. "We are not attempting to commercialize any of these lines since we do not have the resources to go through the regulatory process."

At the international level, Monsanto last March established the Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program with a $10 million grant that supports young scholars working on wheat and rice. "Wheat research is underfunded globally, particularly in developing countries," says Ted Crosbie, vice president of global plant breeding at Monsanto. This "investment in people," now supporting its first 12 scholars, will train scientists for careers "in public sector research," and each scholar is to work as part of a twosome, with one partner from an industrialized country and the other from a developing country, he says. The program is being administered through College Station-based Texas AgriLife Research, part of Texas A&m University, for the next five years. This scholarship program was "put together" before Monsanto decided to get back into the "wheat business," he says.
Shifting views

After a pause for part of the decade, corporate programs to develop GM wheat are being reactivated. At the time Monsanto pulled its RR wheat, Basel-based Syngenta was also working on plans to release a fusarium-resistant GM-wheat variety. "Private companies put wheat on the shelf about five years ago, and became extremely reluctant to invest in it, but that changed in the past two years," says Peterson of OSU. "Prices are changing, and some of the opposition to GM wheat has softened. The sense I get is that a number of companies are reevaluating, and their discussions with grower groups are creating a more positive atmosphere. And these [corporate] players are not the 'small guys', but the big ag-chemical guys."

"The US may be beaten by another country, and we remain behind because of the lapse when Monsanto pulled out in 2004," says Michael Wach of the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, DC, referring to GM-wheat development efforts weeks before Monsanto's announcement last July. "We don't see anyone poised, but the USDA has researchers outside the commercial world." Recently, however, there is a "big shift" among wheat growers, with a "majority interested in adopting biotechnology-- We applaud that development," he says.

In many ways, using biotech to develop commercial wheat varieties seems a "no brainer-it's an extension of developments for soybeans and corn," says Lochiel Edwards, a wheat producer from Big Sandy, Montana, and a former president of the Montana Grain Growers Association. Earlier this decade, however, growers were wary because of consumer opposition to GM wheat and the big difficulties they would face in trying to segregate GM grain from other non-GM varieties. More importantly, they were outright worried about the likelihood of losing a big share in highly valued wheat export markets, particularly to Europe and Japan, where opponents of the technology were vocal and politically entrenched.

Those fears led to a split among growers as well as between several key organizations that represent them on trade or on assorted agricultural issues, according to Edwards. The National Association of Wheat Growers, for instance, was sympathetic to plans for commercializing GM wheat-specifically, Monsanto's RR spring wheat-because it promised growers conveniences in applying herbicides. In contrast, the US Wheat Associates (USWA) of Arlington, Virginia, focused more narrowly on the potential damage that GM wheat could wreak on wheat as an export commodity in world markets. "There was a dichotomy of goals," Edwards says. Moreover, the Canadian Wheat Board shared and amplified those export qualms, and threatened to stand pat on keeping Canadian wheat GM-free, thus intensifying anxieties within USWA that US growers could lose out to Canadian growers selling non-GM wheat at a premium to customers in Europe and Japan.

The issue was further complicated because the variety of RR winter wheat that Monsanto then was offering was to be grown mainly in Montana and North Dakota, meaning only a fraction of US wheat growers would benefit from planting it, whereas a larger contingent could be hurt if US export wheat prices were driven down across the board. Furthermore, those growers following no-till practices faced additional complications if they were to gr ow herbicide-resistant whea t one season but then face it as a weed during subsequent plantings of other crops.

During the past several years, however, much that drove these dynamics during 2003 and 2004 has changed, according to Peterson at OSU as well as Edwards and other wheat growers. "The wheat industry has come full circle-- .and unified its support for going forward with a biotech strategy," says Allan Skogen, a North Dakota wheat grower, who also chairs Growers for Biotechnology, based in Valley City, North Dakota. "There is no doubt that we can increase production if given these biotech tools." The key focus for growers is "drought tolerance," he adds. "Water is the issue, and the limiting factor for wheat." Disease resistance is also important, even if a somewhat lower priority. None of the first-generation of commercial GM-wheat strains is likely to address these traits.

Another critical element that upset GM-wheat dynamics five years ago was set aside forcibly in mid-May, when nine top US, Canadian and Australian wheat organizations issued a policy statement about introducing GM wheat. In it, they promise "to work toward the goal of synchronized commercialization of biotech traits in our wheat crops" while noting that it "is in all of our best interests to introduce biotech wheat varieties in a coordinated fashion to minimize market disruptions and shorten the period of adjustment." Although this tripartite statement is viewed with considerable relief by US wheat growers, Edwards says, "the US wheat leadership won't require simultaneous release with Canada; they're ready to go without them [Canadian growers]."
International hotspots

Wheat is a global product, and GM wheat is being developed outside US or Canadian and Australian borders. "I was welcomed like a rock star in Zhengzhou, which is the Chinese 'Kansas' for wheat production," says plant researcher Robert Buchanan of the University of California, Berkeley, where he is an executive dean. A group of 40 researchers at Henan Agricultural University, led by Jun Yin and Yong-Chun Li, are developing GM wheat that entails adding antisense inserts to the thioredoxin gene, advancing work on a gene that Buchanan began studying about 15 years ago, he says. The goal is to block the thioredoxin gene as a way of slowing or avoiding premature germination of seed heads in hot weather, a step that now reduces wheat yields by about 20%. "Field trials are in their third year, and this [technology] could be commercialized in two to three years," Buchanan says, referring to progress in China. "There are no adverse effects, and the only drawback so far is that such [GM wheat] seeds germinate more slowly in soil. It's gratifying to see my earlier work moved forward. Jun is a hero there, and China is going ahead as fast as they can with GM wheat, and will be the richer for it."

The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences is also developing GM-wheat lines, including wilt-resistant lines, according to Zhonghu He, a researcher at the Academy and CIMMYT liaison officer in Beijing. Scientists there are developing wheat to be "disease and insect resistant for head scab, powdery mildew, yellow mosaic virus and insects; stress resistant for drought, salinity, sprouting and herbicide; and with quality improvement for dough strength and grain texture," he says. "In 2008, the Chinese government funded--. [GM] wheat as the largest [program], and plans to continue for the next 15 to 20 years. At least 20 scientists at the PhD level work on GM [crops] and, in the new project, more than 60 scientists are involved. Planting and production can be achieved within the next 3 to 5 years."

"China and India are both very interested in GM wheat," says Braun of CIMMYT in Mexico. The Chinese have proved reluctant to license traits from Western companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta, preferring to stay away from costly entanglements involving intellectual property rights. Moreover, because wheat grown in China is exclusively for domestic markets, officials there will not be delayed by international trade concerns and, in terms of domestic consumption, are not expected to meet with or care about any local opposition to GM food products if it were to arise.

"In India, that could be a problem," Braun continues. GM eggplant has received regulatory approval, although the government has yet to make a final decision. Furthermore, the commercial arm of Mahyco Research Center in Dawalwadi, India, namely the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company, which markets Bollgard cotton through agreements with Monsanto, also markets several varieties of conventional hybrid wheat. Elsewhere, scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi are pursuing several transgenic wheat and rice projects, seeking drought- and disease-resistant cultivars.

Australia is another leader in GM-wheat efforts. An initial project of the collaboration between CSIRO and Bayer CropScience announced in July is "development of wheat lines with improved yield potential and stress tolerance, whereas another focuses on wheat lines with improved utilization of phosphorus," according to a Bayer spokesman. "These and other research projects are expected to result in new varieties available to farmers [by] 2015." Before that announcement, the Australian Gene Technology Regulator approved an application from CSIRO to conduct field trials on 16 GM-wheat lines with altered grain composition between July 2009 and June 2012.

In addition to CSIRO, the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, along with La Trobe University in Bundoora, Victoria, is building a center for agricultural research, and this Australian group forged an alliance with Dow AgroSciences of Indianapolis last May to develop transgenic wheat, corn and canola varieties. Well before this alliance was announced, La Trobe researchers were developing and field-testing drought-resistant, transgenic wheat varieties, says Wilson of North Dakota State University. "Although they're ahead of others, they are probably still 8 to 10 years away from commercializing [those varieties]."

Monsanto in the lead
Only a few weeks before Monsanto announced its return to commercial development of GM wheat through its acquisition of WestBred, close observers of this sector sounded doubtful about progress on the commercial GM-wheat front. "It is vague, making it hard to know what's going on," said plant pathologist Bob Bowden of Kansas State University in Manhattan. "Companies are holding their cards close to the vest." At the end of June, he described Monsanto as "schizophrenic" for announcing last March its "scholars program" supporting young people to study GM wheat and rice while ostensibly remaining out of commercial GM-wheat development. Indeed, in the run-up to its mid-July announcement, Monsanto denied R&d activity involving GM wheat, saying instead that it was maintaining a "dialog" with the wheat industry.

That dialog shifted gears with the July rollout by Monsanto of a comprehensive plan for returning to the wheat business. "We will begin with conventional and marker-assisted breeding," says Carl Casale, Monsanto executive vice president of global strategy and operations, who spoke during a press briefing in mid-July. But the longer-term plan is to lean on GM technology to boost wheat yields with traits conferring drought and disease resistance as well as higher efficiency use of nitrogen fertilizers, Casale says. "Realistically, it could be eight to ten years before the first biotech trait is introduced."

And this time the company is not emphasizing herbicide-tolerant transgenic spring wheat, as it did before 2004. Instead, it plans to work on "multi traits across multiple types of wheat," and to "take genes from corn and bring them into wheat," he says. Moreover, the company looks to collaborate with "public sources," meaning scientists at land-grant universities. What's more, the early focus is on crops for US farmers, not growers in Canada or elsewhere. However, he says, "we're open to conversations with any country that wants the benefit of this technology."

Much like Monsanto, Syngenta is easing its way back into GM-wheat development. For Syngenta, the first public move comes through its Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, which formed a partnership with CIMMYT in Mexico last August. That partnership will focus on stem rust, using marker-assisted breeding, to develop disease-resistant varieties of wheat.

Syngenta officials are less sure of when the company will resume efforts to develop transgenic varieties of wheat, says Sandro Aruffo, who heads global research and development from Basel. "We decided to pause our GM-wheat efforts several years ago," he says. "But we will restart it when it's appropriate -- and that will depend on the 'environment'. We don't yet have a target country of entry- or a specific timeframe." Recent signs of reawakened commercial interest in developing GM wheat are a "plus in many different ways, and helps to assure our customers," he says. "We are keeping our ear to the ground to make sure that we remain competitive."

Meanwhile, Syngenta has "very strong GM programs in other crops-soy and corn, in particular," says his colleague Rollin Sears, a senior science and technology fellow for Syngenta in Junction City, Kansas. "Some of that will be applicable to wheat, which is the most important food crop globally, once we decide to restart that program."

"Everyone, with the exception of those who are opposed to biotechnology, comes to the same conclusion," says Crosbie from Monsanto. "Some wheat production problems can only be solved with biotechnology, and drought tolerance is a primary example." GM wheat is "safe" and its commercialization will "improve the environment through more sustainable production," he adds. "I hope the world comes to its senses."

1. Anonymous. 75% of wheat growers approve biotech petition. National Association of Wheat Growers, Washington, DC, Feb, 26, 2009. <http://www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/biotech-petition-press-release-20090226.pdf>http://www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/biotech-petition-press-release-20090226.pdf
2. Anonymous. Farmer optimism clashes with weather fears, CWB survey, Canadian Wheat Board, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, June, 16, 2009. <http://www.cwb.ca/en/newsroom/releases/2009/061809.jsp>http://www.cwb.ca/en/newsroom/releases/2009/061809.jsp
3. Anonymous. Definitive global rejection of genetically engineered wheat. Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, June 1, 2009. <http://www.cban.ca/Resources/Topics/GE-Crops-and-Foods-Not-on-the-Market/Wheat/Definitive-Global-Rejection-of-Genetically-Engineered-Wheat>http://www.cban.ca/Resources/Topics/GE-Crops-and-Foods-Not-on-the-Market/Wheat/Definitive-Global-Rejection-of-Genetically-Engineered-Wheat


Bt Brinjal: Technology and Biosecurity Regulation

- C Kameswara Rao. Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India; pbtkrao@gmail.com; Full article at <http://www.plantbiotechnology.org.in/issues.html>http://www.plantbiotechnology.org.in/issues.html

Brinjal (aubergine, eggplant) is cultivated throughout the world (Daunay, et al., 2001a). In India alone, 25 million farmers cultivate brinjal on over 5.5 lakh hectares with an annual production of about 8.5 million tonnes (Choudhary and Gaur, 2009).

Since the year 2000, Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco) has been developing Bt brinjal hybrids, the GE Event EE-1 containing the Bt gene Cry1Ac, while the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore (TNAU) and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad (UASD) have developed Bt brinjal varieties, which give the farmer the choice of recycling the seed in the following season, unlike the hybrids. The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) has been developing a Bt brinjal with Cry1Ab gene.

The objective of developing Bt brinjal hybrids and varieties is to control the damage caused by the stem and fruit borers (SFB) of brinjal. Shoot damage severely restricts flower and fruit production and fruit damage drastically reduces marketability of the produce. Even after continuous and very heavy insecticide application, the SFBs affect 50 to 70 per cent of the crop yield annually, the damage starting from the nursery and carried to the next crop (Choudhary and Gaur, 2009).

External application of insecticides does not much help as the pest is deep in the stem and fruit tissues. The Cry1Ac gene imparts an inbuilt systemic tolerance to the pests, particularly Leucinodes orbonalis. Helicoverpa armigera (American bollworm), the major pest on cotton which is controlled by Cry1Ac gene, also affects brinjal fruit. The Bt brinjal effectively resists both these pests resulting in diverse benefits to the farmer, consumer and the country, more particularly vastly enhanced produce recovery and the avoidable use and exposure to pesticides and their residues.

Mahyco has integrated EE1 into eight of its own brinjal hybrids (MHB 4, 9, 10, 80, 99, 11, 39, 111). The TNAU developed Bt brinjal varieties Co-1, PLR-1, MDU-1 and KKM-1, while the UASD developed Bt varieties Manjari Gota, Udupi Gulla, Malapur local, Kudachi local, 112-GO hybrids and Rabkavi local, together covering a large part of the needs of the different States, though several more Bt hybrids and varieties need to be developed to every suit the requirements of every brinjal growing region in India.

Biosecurity Evaluation of Bt Brinjal
The All India Coordinated Vegetable Improvement Project and the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, Varanasi (ICAR) have evaluated the agronomic performance and environmental impact of Bt brinjal (Choudhary and Gaur, 2009). The Mahyco Research and Life Sciences Centres (MRC) conducted the following studies on Bt brinjal: a) MRC, Kallakal, Andhra Pradesh: substantial equivalence of Bt and non-Bt brinjals, b) MRC, Dawalwadi, Maharashtra: protein expression, effects of cooking and protein in cooked fruit and c) MRC, Ranebennur, Karnataka and Jalna, Maharashtra : pollen flow ((15 to 20 m; 1.46 to 2.7 per cent out crossing)

The following public and private sector institutions were involved in conducting various biosafety evaluations of Bt brinjal:

a) G. B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar: Feeding studies in lactating crossbred dairy cows;
b) Advinus Theraputic, Bangalore: Subchronic (90 days) feeding studies using New Zealand rabbits, b) Subchronic (90 days) feeding studies in Goats;
c) Intox, Pune: a) Acute oral toxicity studies in rats, b) Sub chronic oral toxicity study in Sprague Dawley rats,
d) Mucous membrane irritation test in female rabbit and d) Primary skin irritation test in rabbit;
e) Rallis India, Bangalore: Assessment of allergenicity using Brown Norway rats;
f) Central Avian Research Institute, Izatnagar: Effect on performance and health of broiler chicken;
g) Central Institute of Fisheries Education, Mumbai: Responses, as a dietary feed ingredient to common carp (Cyprinus carpio) on growth performances;
h) All India Coordinated Research Project on Vegetable Crops, Varanasi: Effects on non-target and beneficial insects; and
i) Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad: Chemical fingerprinting of Bt and non-Bt brinjal (including alkaloids).
All these studies have shown that Bt brinjal is functional and is as safe as non-Bt brinjal for human consumption and to the environment (Choudhary and Gaur, 2009).

Antitech Activism
>From the time of initiation of development till commercial release, a GE crop involves over 10 years of research by over 150 scientific and technical personnel. Nearly two decades of experience in the development of Bt crops (including potato, tomato and bell pepper related to brinjal) and over 13 years of experience in their commercialization in nearly 30 countries has built up an enormous amount of biosecurity data that convincingly demonstrate their benefits and safety.

Bt brinjal has been adequately tested and found to be functional and safe. The activists trash this body of positive evidence and demand an irrational global ban not just on Bt brinjal but on all GE crops. Levels of public awareness of the benefits of GE technology being low, the activists have used every trick of the trade to mislead the public. The scientists, product developers and the Governments, who are engaged in GE technolo gy deployment, have not done anything to educa te the public on the efficacy, reliability, safety and benefits of GE crops and our sound regulatory regime. Enhanced public awareness of these issues will promote informed decisions and wider acceptance of technology, and prevent the misuse of the media by the activists to hijack public opinion to serve vested interest.


Kick-start for Canada's Agbio

- John Hodgson, Nature Biotechnology 27, 970 (2009) <http://www.nature.com/nbt/>http://www.nature.com/nbt/

A CAD$120 million ($116.9 million) venture fund aimed at shoring up agricultural biotech in Canada has been launched, providing a positive response in a difficult investment climate. Bioenterprise Capital will be run by experienced entrepreneurs and investors rather than bankers, says Dave Smardon, president and CEO of BioEnterprise Corp of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, one of the entrepreneurs involved.

"There were 173 venture capital and angel investor groups active in Canada in 2001," he says, "but there are now only 30." Furthermore, virtually all the capital has migrated towards investment in late-stage, lower-risk companies, in information technology, telecommunications and medical applications. The fund managers will take an extremely hands-on approach to their investments, a form of "quasi-incubation" according to Smardon. To date, over 40 industry and investment mentors have joined the cause. "The presence of people who know how to make companies succeed means that we're not picking winners, we are building winners," says Smardon.

The fund is expected to close in September 2010, with money coming from private investors, government agencies and institutions. Approximately half will come from within Canada, and half from international sources. Government participation is expected to be below 20% of the fund's total. One private investment group has already stepped up with a CAD$25 million ($24.3 million) cornerstone.


Puerto Rico GM Crop Haven

- Veronica Guerrero, Nature Biotechnology 27, 970 (2009)

Puerto Rico has passed a new law designed to position the island as an agricultural biotech Mecca. Legislators passed the Law for the Promotion and Development of Agricultural Biotechnological Businesses, signed in August by Governor Luis Fortuņo.

The new law introduces financing incentives and a series of measures designed to ease the process by which biotech corporations obtain trade rights and licenses on the island. As long as they comply with all the legal requirements, firms will receive assistance for projects that include the development and mass production of novel transgenic plants, the use of genetically modified plants to produce pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals or to act as catalysts in environmental cleaning processes.

Since 1987 Puerto Rico has registered 2,177 official field tests for genetically modified (GM) crops, placing the island as the third preferred place for planting experimental or commercial GM crops, after Hawaii and the US state of Indiana. Currently, several US universities and 11 biotech firms are located in Puerto Rico.

The island's excellent weather, which enables winter nurseries and year-round growing cycles, accounts for this preference, says Santiago Arauca, Public Affairs Manager for Monsanto Puerto Rico. The new law, he adds, could help biotech corporations expand, boosting the island's economic activity. Critics such as Puerto Rico's Pro-Ecological Agriculture Coalition argue that the new law favors corporations but fails to evaluate the negative impacts.


Refusing Flu Shots? Maybe You're A 'Denialist'

- Weekend Edition Saturday, NPR, November 7, 2009

Listen to the story and read full article at <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120139776>http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120139776

'Denialism' by Michael Specter; Hardcover, 304 pages; Penguin Press; List Price: $27.95 (Michael Specter writes about science and technology for The New Yorker.)

Nearly 20 percent of the families in Vashon Island, Wash., aren't getting their children vaccinated against childhood diseases. At the Ocean Charter School near Marina del Rey, Calif., 40 percent of the 2008 kindergarten class received vaccination exemptions. Author Michael Specter says the parents in these upscale enclaves are prime examples of what he calls "denialism."

That's also the title of his new book, . "We can all believe irrational things," the author of Denialism tells NPR's Scott Simon. "The problem is that I think an increasing number of Americans are acting on those beliefs instead of acting on facts that are readily present."

The Fetish Of Organic Food
"Denialism," the author says, is evident in far more than vaccination rates. Take organic food. Specter considers himself a fan, but he draws the line at demonizing genetically engineered food.

"In other parts of the world," he says, "a billion people go to bed hungry every night. Those people need science to help them. It isn't about whether people want to go to Whole Foods or not - The thing that killed the most people in the history of the world - except maybe for insects -- was pure water and natural, untreated food."

He argues that some people look at "natural" products, such as vitamins, and think that they're automatically good. But, he argues, "it's no different than anything else you swallow." "Someone told me they didn't want to take a flu shot because they didn't want to put a foreign substance into their body," says Specter. "What do they think they do at dinner every night?"
Excerpt: 'Denialism'

The most blatant forms of denialism are rarely malevolent; they combine decency, a fear of change, and the misguided desire to do good - for our health, our families, and the world. That is why so many physicians dismiss the idea that a patient's race can, and often should, be used as a tool for better diagnoses and treatment. Similar motivations - in other words, wishful thinking - have helped drive the growing national obsession with organic food. We want our food to taste good, but also to be safe and healthy. That's natural. Food is more than a meal, it's about history, culture, and a common set of rituals. We put food in the mouths of our children; it is the glue that unites families and communities. And because we don't see our food until we eat it, any fear attached to it takes on greater resonance.

The corrosive implications of this obsession barely register in America or Europe, where calories are cheap and food is plentiful. But in Africa, where arable land is scarce, science offers the only hope of providing a solution to the growing problem of hunger. To suggest that organic vegetables, which cost far more than conventional produce, can feed billions of people in parts of the world without roads or proper irrigation may be a fantasy based on the finest intentions. But it is a cruel fantasy nonetheless.

Denialist arguments are often bolstered by accurate information taken wildly out of context, wielded selectively, and supported by fake experts who often don't seem fake at all. If vast factory farms inject hormones and antibiotics into animals, which is often true and always deplorable, then all industrial farming destroys the earth and all organic food helps sustain it. If a pricey drug like Nexium, the blockbuster "purple pill" sold so successfully to treat acid reflux disease, offers few additional benefits to justify its staggering cost, then all pharmaceutical companies always gouge their customers and "natural" alternatives - largely unregulated and rarely tested with rigor - offer the only acceptable solution.

We no longer trust authorities, in part because we used to trust them too much. Fortunately, they are easily replaced with experts of our own. All it takes is an Internet connection. Anyone can seem impressive with a good Web site and some decent graphics. Type the word "vaccination" into Google and one of the first of the fifteen million or so listings that pops up, after the Centers for Disease Control, is the National Vaccine Information Center, an organization that, based on its name, certainly sounds like a federal agency. Actually, it's just the opposite: the NVIC is the most powerful anti-vaccine organization in America, and its relationship with the U.S. government consists almost entirely of opposing federal efforts aimed at vaccinating children.


Fifty years ago, we venerated technology. At least until we placed our feet on lunar soil, our culture was largely one of uncritical reverence for the glories that science would soon deliver. The dominant image of popular American culture was progress. TV shows like Star Trek and The Jetsons were based on a kind of utopian view of the scientific future. Even the Flintstones were described as a "modern" Stone Age family. We were entering an era without disease or hunger. If we ran out of water we would siphon salt from the seas and make more; if nature was broken we could fix it. If not, we could always move to another planet.

That vision no longer seems quite so enchanting. No doubt our expectations were unreasonable - for science and for ourselves. We also began to recognize the unintended consequences of our undeniable success. About a month before Neil Armstrong made his large step on the moon, the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River erupted in flames near Cleveland, creating an indelible image of industry at war with nature. A few years later, in 1976, Karen Ann Quinlan was removed from life support, igniting the first horrific battle of the modern era over how we live and die. The end of the decade was marked by the ghastly accident at Three Mile Island, which showed more clearly than ever that the effects of the Industrial Revolution were not all benign. The thalidomide disaster, mad cow disease, even the dramatic and sustained lies of Big Tobacco have all contributed to the sense that if the promise of science wasn't a lie, it wasn't exactly the truth either.

Today the image of a madman whipping up a batch of smallpox, or manufacturing an effective version of bird flu in his kitchen, while not exactly as easy as baking a cake, is no longer so far-fetched. Indeed, if there is anything more frightening than the threat of global nuclear war, it is the certainty that humans not only stand on the verge of producing new life forms but may soon be able to tinker with them as if they were vintage convertibles or bonsai trees.

Our technical and scientific capabilities have brought the world to a turning point, one in which accomplishments clash with expectations. The result often manifests itself as a kind of cultural schizophrenia. We expect miracles, but have little faith in those capable of producing them. Famine remains a serious blight on humanity, yet the leaders of more than one African nation, urged on by rich Europeans who have never missed a meal, have decided it would be better to let their citizens starve than to import genetically modified grains that could feed them.

Food is a compelling example of how fear has trumped science, but it is not the only evidence that we are waging a war against progress, rather than, as Peter Melchett would have it, against nature. The issues may be complex but the choices are not: we are either going to embrace new technologies, along with their limitations and threats, or slink into an era of magical thinking. Humanity has nearly suffocated the globe with carbon dioxide, yet nuclear power plants that produce no such emissions are so mired in objections and obstruction that, despite renewed interest on every continent, it is unlikely another will be built in the United States. Such is the opposition to any research involving experiments with animals that in scores of the best universities in the world, laboratories are anonymous, unmarked, and surrounded by platoons of security guards.
Excerpted from Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, by Michael Specter. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) November 2009.


Agricultural Successes Provide Roadmap for Ending Hunger

- Thursday, November 12, 2009 ; 14:00 GMT (9:00 am EST in the U.S.)

Next week, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) will release a new book highlighting proven approaches to combating hunger-an urgent global challenge. The book, Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development, is the product of a major research project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to examine significant agricultural achievements and document what actually worked, and why.

When global leaders meet in Rome later this month for the World Summit on Food Security, improving agriculture will be high on the agenda. By providing donors and policymakers with concrete evidence on which agricultural investments and initiatives are most likely to eradicate hunger, this book is especially timely.

WHAT: Conference call briefing on agricultural success stories and lessons learned in the fight against hunger
WHO: Rajul Pandya-Lorch, Head, IFPRI's 2020 Vision Initiative, and book coeditor; Prabhu Pingali, Deputy Director, Agricultural Development, Gates Foundation; Raul Montemayor, Co-Chair, Millions Fed Advisory Committee, and General Secretary, Federation of Free Farmers Cooperatives, Inc., Philippines

WHEN: There is no charge for participation. Our operator will call you. To participate in the conference call briefing, please: * Send email to "Michael Rubinstein" <m.rubinstein@cgiar.org> and provide your telephone number. Landlines are preferred.

For more information <http://ifpri.us1.list-manage.com/track/click?u=e1537016b431a91504702d94b&id=6733727034&e=32df45d5b3>http://ifpri.us1.list-manage.com/track/click?u=e1537016b431a91504702d94b&id=6733727034&e=32df45d5b3

Millions Fed - Video


A 12-minute video, highlighting case studies from the book, "Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development". also, Live streaming video of the book launch event on November 12, 12.15 pm EST - <http://www.ustream.tv/channel/millions-fed>http://www.ustream.tv/channel/millions-fed


On Line Seed Technology and Business Graduate Program

- Iowa State University <http://www.seedgrad.iastate.edu/index.htm>http://www.seedgrad.iastate.edu/index.htm

The Graduate Program in Seed Technology and Business (STB) provides a unique opportunity for seed professionals to grow through the understanding of both science and technology that is key to seed industry, and broadly applicable business subjects.

The science and technology component of Master of Science program includes basic science courses in crop improvement, seed pathology, and seed physiology with courses in seed technology: seed production, conditioning, and quality. The business component covers the basic management topics: accounting and finance, strategy and planning, management information systems, and marketing and supply chain management. There is also a unique course on seed trade, policy and regulation. The seed technology and business program is a cooperative program between the college of Business and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. The Seed Science Center and the MBA program of the College of Business are involved.

Managers with awareness of basic business skills stand a better chance of making choices that will lead to efficient business process, linking seed businesses and seed organizations to clients. They will stand a better chance of contributing to efficient production management, keeping inventory at levels that can meet organizational goals. They will also stand a better chance of creating a company image that projects the ability t o do both to customers and to pot ential partners in the seed and genetic supply chain.
The STB Program also offers Graduate Certificates in Seed Science and Technology and in Seed Business Management. These Certificates share courses with the MS program. The next group will begin July 2010.

For additional information contact: Dr. Paul Christensen, Seed Science Center. Ames, IA 5011 USA
Tel: 1-515-294-8745; Fax:1-515-294-2014; Email: intlcorn@iastate.edu


Elevating Environmentalism Over 'Less Worthy' Lifestyles

- Frank Furedi, Spiked, full article at

Some scientists are bemused that a British judge has decided that a strong belief in alarmist climate-change scenarios ought to be awarded the status of religious faith.

Following a judge's decision at a UK employment tribunal that Tim Nicholson, a sustainability officer who was sacked from a property firm, was entitled to legal protection for his 'philosophical belief' in climate change, scientists have been expressing their shock. 'As a scientist who works on climate change, I find it deeply alarming', said Myles Allen, who heads the Climate Dynamics group at the University of Oxford (1).

Allen's concerns are entirely understandable. Since the rise of the modern era, science has prided itself on its capacity to explain the world on the basis of experimentation, research and, above all, hard evidence. Science emerged, self-consciously, as an alternative to worldviews based on faith, moral conviction and other forms of a priori thought. So it is natural that a genuine scientist would feel insulted by the judge Sir Michael Burton's ruling that Nicholson's concern with climate change qualified as a 'philosophical belief' under the Religion and Belief Regulations 2003.

Those who hold strongly held environmentalist views even have a semi-official mandate to break the law these days. Protesters against genetically modified (GM) food or nuclear power are often represented as idealist young people who are acting on 'everyone's behalf'. In truth, being part of the British political oligarchy, they have the kind of freedom to protest that is usually denied to ordinary mortals. That is why such protesters who break the law often face a sympathetic court hearing and win 'not guilty' verdicts (see State-sanctioned radicalism, by Brendan O'Neill).

So when Lord Melchett, the aristocratic former leader of Greenpeace, was arrested for criminal damage and theft after taking part in a protest against GM crops, he was genuinely shocked by his treatment. As far as he was concerned, his action was a 'direct expression of "people's power"'. Greenpeace, the self-appointed voice of the British people, described its action as an exercise in 'active citizenship' which 'keeps democracy healthy and responsive'.

Melchett, like many other leading lobbyists, has an elitist notion of democracy, one driven by a conviction that, if they believe that something is wrong, then waiting for an unresponsive political system to do something about it is a luxury that society cannot afford. Professional environmental protesters assume that they have the moral authority to take matters into their own hands, since they are acting on behalf of The People. They believe that their unique philosophical insights entitle them to special dispensation. Now, Mr Justice Burton has effectively agreed with them, elevating environmentalism over other, inferior, less 'worthy' beliefs - and democracy is all the more impoverished for it.
Frank Furedi's latest book, Wasted: Why Education Isn't Educating, is published by Continuum Press.


Compiled by C. S. Prakash.