* Zimbabwe Farmers Calls for Planting of GMOs
* Genetically Modified Food for Thought
* GM Crops Have A Role In Preventing World Hunger, UK Chief Scientist Says
* Biotech Crops Making Important Contributions to Food Production & Sustainable Farming
* Australia: Release of GM Sugarcane for Herbicide Tolerance
* Bishops Back Environmentally Safe Rice Research
* Shah is Nominated USAID Administrator
* Bt Brinjal: An Activist Designed Imbroglio
* Some Pests Prefer Organic
Zimbabwe Farmers Calls for Planting of GMOs
- Sarah Ncube, The Zimbabwe Telegraph, Nov. 19, 2009 http://www.zimtelegraph.com
Zimbabwe – Harare – The Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) has called on the Government to allow farmers to plant Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) maize seed so as to increase harvest and counter imports.
In a telephone interview yesterday, the organisation’s vice president for administration Robert Marapira said GMO maize could be the short term solution to the country food shortages. “ It is known that the country has over the past decade failed to harvest adequate maize to cater for the needs of the citizens hence we believe that the growing of genetically modified maize could be the counter measure especially taking into consideration that the Government has been spending millions of dollars in sourcing grain from outside the country,” he said.
Marapira said research had shown that a hectare of land planted with GMO seed could harvest 15 tonnes compared to natural seed, which rakes in only three tonnes. "GMO seeds mature faster than the natural seed and they need less water looking at a possibility of the country receiving less rainfall meaning that if such a thing was to occur the country would be guaranteed of a good harvest,” said Marapira.
He added that GMO maize could also be used as a way of countering imports that have flooded the local market. “The majority of food stuffs coming into the country are GMOs and paying particular attention to maize you would notice that South African maize is cheaper than local because production costs lesser meaning that most businesses and millers would prefer to buy from neighbouring countries a situation which would negatively affect farmers,” said Marapira.
Meanwhile various farmer organisations met to discuss challenges faced by farmers and strategies on how to effectively market their produce.
Genetically Modified Food for Thought
-The Editorial, The Independent (London), Nov. 19, 2009
The Prospect of a hungry century looms. On our present course, we are caught in a pincer. Climate change is likely to turn much farmland around the globe into desert. And the growth of the global population will increase demand for food. Yields will fall and prices will rise. That is a recipe for starvation.
Professor Robert Watson, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, argues in an interview with this newspaper today that the policy response of all governments, including our own, to this "nightmare scenario" should be greater support for genetically-modified crop technologies.
The potential benefits to mankind from GM are real. If crops can be genetically modified to be drought-resistant, or to grow on formerly barren land, they could well play an important role in feeding the planet in the coming decades.
The problem is that we are some way from developing such super crops. Instead, the crops which dominate the GM market are herbicide-resistant strains developed by Monsanto and a handful of other pesticide manufacturers. These allow farmers to soak the land in chemicals. If such ultra-intensive farming techniques were to be used in Britain's crowded countryside, it would threaten ecological disaster.
The central failure of our own Government on GM has been its inability to differentiate between the hypothetical technologies which hold out the welcome prospect of bringing marginal land into cultivation, and the existing technologies which destroy natural diversity. It is this ambivalence that has stoked the suspicion of environmentalists, prompting some activists to vandalise scientific GM trials.
If the Government is going to throw its support behind GM technology, ministers need to be explicit about what they are supporting. And they must establish a divide between commercial interests and the needs of the world's food consumers. A programme sponsoring independent research into drought-resistant crop strains, and other socially beneficial innovations, would have a chance of winning public support; a policy of carelessly throwing open Britain's markets to the pesticide giants - quite rightly - would not.
UK: GM Crops Have A Role In Preventing World Hunger, Chief Scientist Says
- Rachel Shields The Independent (UK), Nov.19, 2009 http://www.independent.co.uk
GM crops have a role to play in preventing mass starvation across the world caused by a combination of climate change and rapid population growth, a senior government scientist said yesterday. Professor Robert Watson, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), called for UK trials of GM foods, arguing that the Government needs to be more open with the public about the risks and benefits of genetically modified foods.
"Over the next 20 to 50 years, the population is going to increase from 6.5 to 9 billion. There will be more extreme weather, more demand for food, meat, and water, a changing climate: it is a very challenging situation, which, if we don't deal with it, could become a nightmare scenario," said Professor Watson. "We have to look at all the technologies, policies and practices, all forms of bio-tech, including GM."
"We need to have trials in the UK, and to make them open and transparent," Professor Watson added. "We'd have to protect them, to stop them getting trashed. There are a whole range of situations in which science can play a very important role. We'll need seeds which are more temperature- and pest-tolerant."
The suggestion that the Government should resume trials of GM crops, which halted in 2008, has generated criticism from environmental campaigners who point out that the growth of herbicide-resistant GM crops in countries such as Argentina and the US has seen dramatic increases in pesticide use and created pesticide-resistant "super-weeds".
"If the Government does make the mistake of approving new field trials, then they should prepare themselves for the response of local communities, who will be worried about the risks that these crops pose," said Clare Oxborrow, senior food campaigner at Friends of the Earth. "The issues that applied a few years ago still apply. The risks of contamination have not been addressed; nor have any health and safety concerns."
Biotech Crops Making Important Contributions to Food Production & Sustainable Farming
- Graham Brookes, PG Economics, Nov 17, 2009 http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk
In the light of ongoing world food security, agricultural sustainability and climate change debates, PG Economics has released three summary documents of the yield, income and environmental effects of biotech crops . These summaries are supplemented by more detailed examinations of these impacts in the latest report on the global socio-economic and environmental impacts of the technology 1996-2007 .
The three summaries document the real contribution of biotech crops to; improving global crop yields, increasing production (and estimated contributions to food security), improving farm income and reducing the environment ‘footprint’ of agriculture.
Key impacts are:
* Biotech crops have contributed to significantly reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. In 2007, this was equivalent to removing 14.2 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing nearly 6.3 million cars from the road for one year;
* A reduction in pesticide spraying (1996-2007) of 359 million kg (equivalent to 125% of the annual volume of pesticide active ingredient applied to arable crops in the European Union);
* There have been substantial net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $10.1 billion in 2007 and $44.1 billion for the twelve year period. The farm income gains in 2007 is equivalent to adding 4.4% to the value of global production of the four main biotech crops of soybeans, corn, canola and cotton;
* Of the total farm income benefit, 46.5% ($20.5 billion) has been due to yield gains, with the balance arising from reductions in the cost of production;
* Farmers in developing countries obtained the largest share of the farm income gains in 2007 (58%) and over the twelve year period obtained 50% of the total ($44.1 billion) gains. Developing country farmers have also seen the largest increases in farm income on a per hectare basis from using the technology;
* Since 1996, biotech traits have added 67.8 million tonnes and 62.4 million tonnes respectively to global production of soybeans and corn. The technology has also contributed an extra 6.85 million tonnes of cotton lint and 4.44 million tonnes of canola;
* The average yield gains across the global area planted to biotech insect resistant corn and cotton (1996-2007) were over 6% and 13% respectively. The highest yield gains have been experienced by developing country farmers;
* The additional production arising from biotech crops (1996-2007) has contributed enough energy (in kcal terms) to feed about 402 million people for a year (additional production in 2007 contributed enough energy to feed 88 million, similar to the annual requirement of the population of the Philippines);
* If GM technology had not been available to the (12 million) farmers using the technology in 2007, maintaining global production levels at the 2007 levels would have required additional plantings of 5.9 million ha of soybeans, 3 million ha of corn, 2.5 million ha of cotton and 0.3 million ha of canola. This total area requirement is equivalent to about 6% of the arable land in the US, or 23% of the arable land in Brazil.
Australia: Release of GM Sugarcane for Herbicide Tolerance
- http://www.seedquest.com November 11, 2009
The Gene Technology Regulator has made a decision to issue a licence in respect of application DIR 096 from BSES Limited (BSES). The applicant has received approval for the limited and controlled release of up to 6,000 sugarcane lines genetically modified for herbicide tolerance. The release is expected to take place at six BSES stations in the Queensland shires of Moreton Bay, Bundaberg, Mackay, Burdekin and Cairns on a maximum total area of 26 ha between November 2009 and November 2015. None of the GM sugarcane plants will be permitted to be used as human food or animal feed.
The decision to issue the licence was made after extensive consultation on the Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan (RARMP) with the public, State and Territory governments, Australian Government agencies, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts and the Gene Technology Technical Advisory Committee and relevant local councils, as required by the Gene Technology Act 2000 and corresponding State and Territory laws.
Issues relating to the health and safety of people and the protection of the environment raised during the consultation process on this application were considered in finalising the RARMP and in making the decision to issue the licence.
The Executive Summary, Technical Summary and complete finalised RARMP, together with a set of Questions and Answers on this decision and a copy of the licence, can be obtained on-line from the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator’s website http://www.ogtr.gov.au
Bishops Back Environmentally Safe Rice Research
- Indian Catholic, November 18, 2009; http://www.indiancatholic.in/
MANILA : The Philippine bishops' bioethics office says it supports efforts to develop new rice strains to solve a rice shortage in Asia as long as these do not harm the environment.
Dominican Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi of Caceres told UCA News the Church will back the introduction of new rice strains if these will help feed over 1 billion malnourished Asians and Africans.
He said the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines was initially against genetically modified organisms (GMO) when the technology was "not yet so well defined."
The prelate noted "a gradual evolution" toward acceptance as it became apparent GMO offers food safety and security as well as environmental sustainability.
"Church opposition (to GMO) is no longer as strong" after a seminar on "Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development" held by the Pontifical Academy for Sciences in Rome May 15-19, the bishop said in an interview Nov. 17.
The bishop's comments come as more than 700 scientists and agriculturalists discuss new rice strains at the 6th International Rice Genetics Symposium in Manila which runs from Nov. 16-19.
New strains are being developed to produce 50 million tons of rice by 2015 with no change in land cultivation, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) director general Robert Zeigler said at the symposium's opening.
The plight of over 1 billion people stricken with poverty, 70 percent of whom live in Asia and depend on rice as their staple food, is IRRI's "driving force for our research" the institute's head said. "As rice yields increase, the incidence of poverty decreases."
The IRRI is the largest non-profit agricultural research center in Asia, with headquarters in the Philippines and offices in 14 countries.
Its mission is to reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and ensure rice production is environmentally sustainable.
"The Catholic bishops' conference has never opposed IRRI programs because they are not considered harmful to the environment," Bishop Jose Rojas of Libmanan, another bioethics office member told UCA News.
"GMO involves genetic engineering where you introduce one or more DNA directly into the plant," David Mackill, IRRI Program Director of the Genetic and Biotechnology Division, told UCA News at the symposium.
He said IRRI does not conduct genetic engineering and works somewhat like farmers "who have been developing new crop varieties since the dawn of agriculture, but this time using new technology."
Shah is Nominated USAID Administrator
President Barack Obama has nominated Dr. Rajiv Shah as new Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Early this year, President Obama appointed Dr. Shah as the Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics and Chief Scientist at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In his tenure at USDA, Dr. Shah launched the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) - a new scientific institute created to elevate and enhance the capacity of agricultural research to address sustainable food production, climate change, bioenergy and human nutrition.
Earlier, Dr. Shah served as the Director for Agricultural Development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He earned his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and his Master of Science in health economics at the Wharton School of Business. He attended the London School of Economics, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is responsible for managing an annual budget of more than $2.6 billion overseen by more than 10,000 staff worldwide.
The White House announcement is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/president-obama-announces-usaid-administrator Details of the USAID and its work around the world is available at http://www.usaid.gov/
Bt Brinjal: An Activist Designed Imbroglio
- C Kameswara Rao. Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education. Bangalore , India; firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.plantbiotechnology.org.in
On October 15, 2009, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved Bt brinjal for commercialization, considering it safe for human consumption and ready to be made available to farmers, basing on protracted product and biosecurity evaluation and its review by two Expert Committees (2007, 2009).
The activist groups who have been working hard for a ban on not just Bt brinjal but all genetically engineered (GE) crops in India slipped into a tizzy and demanded that the Minister for Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India, should reject GEAC’s approval. They seem to have arranged for over ‘40,000 e-mails and letters’ to the MoEF opposing the approval of Bt brinjal, which the MoEF said ‘amounted to blackmailing’ (The Hindu, October, 15, 2009).
The MoEF issued a Press Statement on October 15, 2009, stating that a) Comments are sought, by December 31, 2009, on the Expert Committee report placed on the Ministry’s website (www.moef.gov.in), b) during January-February 2010 he would have a series of consultations with in different places with scientists, agriculture experts, farmers’ organizations, consumer groups and NGOs representing all points of view, and c) the decision will be made only after the consultation process was complete and all stakeholders are satisfied that they have been heard (October 15, 2009) (http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/Press_Bt%20Brinjal.pdf). The public response should be communicated to the MoEF as per the information provided towards the end of this brief.
The MoEF’s decision is surprising and seems pointless for several reasons:
a) In India, Bt brinjal passed through extensive agronomic and biosecurity evaluation as per the mandatory provisions of the Indian Regulatory regime, during 2000-09 involving about 200 scientists and experts from over 15 public and private sector institutions.
b) Bt brinjal’s agronomic and biosecurity evaluation dossier is on the GEAC website since November 2008 (http://www.envfor.nic.in/divisions/csurv/geac/bt_brinjal.html).
c) The First Expert Committee recommended to the GEAC to permit Bt brinjal for Large Scale Field Trials (July 2007). The GEAC accepted this recommendation (August 2007) and directed that the trials be conducted for two seasons under the direct supervision of the Director, Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (IIVR), Varanasi.
d) The Second Expert Committee recommended on October 8, 2009, that the Bt brinjal with event EE-1 has been extensively tested for its biosafety and no additional studies/review are necessary and this report is on the GEAC website since October 8, 2009 (http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/Report%20on%20Bt%20brinjal.pdf).
e) Basing on the recommendation of the Second Expert Committee, on October 14, 2009, the GEAC approved Bt brinjal for commercialization.
f) What is the rationale behind MoEF placing for layman response the report of a scientific committee which was reviewed by the GEAC, an apex statutory scientific/expert committee? This is tantamount to an insult to the GEAC, which is MoEF’s own organ.
g) Over 25 years of research experience and over 13 years of experience in commercial cultivation over 25 countries demonstrated that Bt crops are effective and safe for use. Does this count for nothing?
h) A country’s science policy should be framed by its scientific fraternity and managed jointly by the relevant scientific institutions and the appropriate departments of the Government. The mandate for biosecurity evaluation and to permit commercialization legally rests with the GEAC.
The following are some of the more important issues that need be considered:
3.1 Why do we need Bt brinjal?
In India alone, 25 million farmers cultivate brinjal on over 5.5 lakh hectares with an annual production of about 8.5 million tonnes, next to China, the top producer (Choudhary and Gaur, 2009). Most of these are small farmers.
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 yield. 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). Even excessive external application of insecticides does not much help as the pest is deep in the stem and fruit tissues. The Cry1Ac gene in Bt brinjal 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.
3.2 Origin of brinjal
The activists claim that India was the Centre of Origin of brinjal and a GE brinjal harms its diversity, but this does not seem to be the case. This is an emotional argument without any bearing on agricultural development, particularly now, when one can take a gene from any source and incorporate into the genome of any other organism. Overall evidence strongly suggests that South America was the Centre of Origin of the species of the genus Solanum, to which potato (Solanum tuberosum), tomato (Solanum lycopersicum, Lycopersicum esculentum) and brinjal (Solanum melongena) belong.
The exact origin of Solanum melongena is uncertain. It is not known in the wild, barring as an escape from cultivated fields. It probably originated from the African wild species Solanum incanum. Solanum melongena was first domesticated in Southeast China, and taken to the Mediterranean region during the Arab conquests in the 7th century. If brinjal was mentioned in ancient Indian literature, it only indicates that it was naturalized, having been introduced into India, a long time ago and this in itself is not an evidence of its origin in India.
Hindu tradition prohibits brinjal in food served particularly at the time of death ceremonies (the 10th to 13th day or annual ceremonies), along with several other vegetables (even chillies for that matter) which are not native to India. This is also a pointer to that brinjal is not native to India.
3.3 Centres of Diversity of brinjal
India is one of several Centres of Diversity of brinjal. There is a large number of varieties of brinjal in India, but not two or three thousands as the activists claim, probably based on a confusion between accessions in a seed collection and the actual number of varieties/hybrids. Chaudhary and Gaur (2009) listed 28 hybrids and 88 varieties of brinjal released during the past thirty years. Farmers generally habitually opt for new varieties/hybrids and discord old ones. After a time the stored seed loses its viability and seed banks become seed musea. Counting unusable collections does not help even the activist’s an argument in boosting up the number of varieties.
3.4 Gene flow from Bt brinjal
The floral structure and pollination behavior of such Bt crops as tomato, potato, bell pepper and brinjal do not warrant any significant threat from gene flow among these crops (bt or not) or their supposed relatives (Kameswara Rao, 2008c,d). In nature, species of Solanum do not normally hybridize, as they are predominantly self-pollinated (90 per cent). Even when artificial hybrids are produced, the progeny are sterile. The farmers never complained of any hybrids between their variety and a neighbouring farmer’s variety and they do not make any effort to protect varieties of cultivated brinjals from hybridizing among themselves or with the wild Solanums.
3.5 Rejection of GE crops by some countries
There is a serious concern that European Union countries and others would reject Indian farm exports if they contain some GE element. Exports help only the middle men and not too many farmers and certainly not the small farmer. Should our agriculture be geared to cater to the European Union and a few rich exporters or should it mind our own people?
The United States Department of Agriculture issued a missive that brinjal imported from Israel and Ghana should be free from Leucinodes orbonalis and Helicoverpa armigera, both recognized as serious pests. The US has no problem with GE crops and if the quality of the Indian Bt brinjal is good, US markets would be open to it.
3.6 Society should have faith in its scientific community
The combined global scientific wisdom should be respected in evaluating GE products and the decisions on their acceptance or rejection should not be allowed to be hijacked by the vested interest using junk science to pursue inept politics of ideological imperialism, often with support from foreign agencies to promote their own interests.
3.7 Do not create a brinjal Robin Hood
For about a decade the Government failed in taking suitable action against the illegal Bt cotton in Gujarat which is still widely cultivated there. Farmers with the help of some scientists have developed several preferred varieties of illegal Bt cotton widely grown in Gujarat and also in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, as the farmers are happy with it. The scientist behind illegal Bt cotton, that came to be cultivated even before the legal Bt cotton, is hailed as (cotton) Robin Hood.
There is now a talk of illegal herbicide tolerant cotton and a herbicide and pest tolerant gene stacked cotton being cultivated in Gujarat and a virus resistant GE papaya in some parts of the country, all of which need to be verified and controlled if true. If the commercialization of Bt brinjal is delayed and if the farmer prefers it, Bt brinjal would be clandestinely cultivated, creating a brinjal Robin Hood. Once this happens, no control will be possible later on, as it happened with illegal Bt cotton.
Persistent activism against GE crops in India is leading to a serious and unfortunate situation where any GE crop can be released for cultivation provided the developers do not say so, and in the process save enormous amounts of time and money by bypassing the regulatory regime, also benefitting farmers and consumers. Let us not promote this tendency.
3.8 Responsibility of the media
The Indian media seem to regard only the macabre as newsworthy since they believe that ‘facts are not news’. They so readily publish all absurd anti-tech statements and hardly give any space to the pro-tech opinions, branding the authors as on industry’s payroll. The media should verify the veracity of what is being fed to them by the activists.
3.9 Bt brinjal a world food crop?
Bt brinjal, when commercialized, will be the first genetically modified food crop in South Asia and the thirteenth worldwide. Brinjal is either cultivated or imported throughout the world. A successful Bt brinjal has a great potential to become the world’s food crop.
4. Support Bt Brinjal
Consider all evidence available and if you are convinced of the efficacy and safety of Bt brinjal, communicate with the MoEF, in support of it. Those who would like to write to the Shree Jairam Ramesh, the MoEF, can do so by post (Minister of State (Independent charge), Ministry of Environment & Forests, Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi - 110003, India, or by fax ( +91-11-24362222) or by e-mail (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org) or post your comments via MoEF’s website (http://moef.nic.in/modules/contact-ministry/contact-ministry/ ) before December 31, 2009.
Full article and References at http://www.plantbiotechnology.org.in/issues.html
Some Pests Prefer Organic
- Phil Berardelli. ScienceNOW Daily News, November 13, 2009
Contrary to claims made by some proponents of organic farming, natural fertilizers are often no better than chemical fertilizers at defending crops against insects--and sometimes they're worse. That's what British researchers found over the course of a 2-year trial. The results suggest that farmers should tailor fertilizing to individual plant varieties.
Organic farming has gained popularity in recent decades because of its use of natural ingredients. Proponents say that cow manure, for example, is far less harmful to the environment than petrochemical-based products. Some advocates have also claimed that organic fertilizers help plants resist insect pests better than synthetic varieties do. That's because plants absorb the nitrogen and other nutrients from organic fertilizers more slowly, and the pest larvae that rely on those nutrients have a tougher time gobbling them up.
Previous research on the topic proved inconclusive, so researchers at Imperial College London and two other institutions in the United Kingdom studied how three pests--two types of aphid and one species of moth--responded to the application of natural and synthetic fertilizers on cabbage plants. The team used chicken manure and other green fertilizers derived from beans and alfalfa, plus commercially produced ammonium nitrate, and applied all in both high and low concentrations. The experiment spanned two growing seasons at multiple field sites.
The team got surprisingly mixed results. The moth, Plutella xylostella, favored the conventionally fertilized plants, laying its eggs about four times more frequently on them than on organically fertilized cabbage. One aphid, Myzus persicae, also preferred the commercial fertilizer, laying eggs on ammonium nitrate–fed plants twice as often as on plants fed with organic fertilizer. But the other aphid, Brevicoryne brassicae, preferred the organically grown variety by about a three-to-one egg-laying margin, the researchers [ http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2009/11/10/rspb.2009.1631.abstract ] report this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The lesson here, says entomologist and co-author Simon Leather, is that the complex chemical interactions between fertilizer and plant can be unpredictable, repelling some pests but attracting others. "One size does not fit all," he says.
Biologist Gordon Port of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom agrees, calling the work a "robust" study. What remains to be seen, he says, is how the natural enemies of the pests (such as ladybugs for the aphids and wasps and spiders for the moths) react to the two different types of fertilizers