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Date:

November 22, 2009

Subject:

Anti-GM Brigade Will Turn Feast Into Famine; Wrong-headed Stance; China Approves Corn; Revealing Rice; Jairam on Bt Brinjal

 



* Anti-GM Brigade Will Turn Feast Into Famine
* Ireland: Government's Stance on GM crops is Wrong-headed
* China Has Approved GM Phytase Maize For Commercial Cultivation
* Consumers Choose Locally Grown and Environmentally Friendly (GM) Apples
* U.S. Farmers Continue to Favor Biotech Crop Varieties
* GMO, Biodiesel Situations Looming Heavy On Trade Relations
* Insect Resistance to Bt Crops can be Predicted, Monitored, and Managed
* Extrapolating Non-Target Risk of Bt Crops From Laboratory to Field
* Entire Genetic Diversity of Rice to be Revealed and Shared
* Experts Have Supported Genetically Modified Brinjal: India's Environment Minister
* Bt Brinjal in India
* What Does India’s Bt Cotton Experience Tell Us?

--

Anti-GM Brigade Will Turn Feast Into Famine

- Liam Clarke, The Sunday Times, Nov. 22, 2009

GM-Free Ireland, a new group calling for genetically modified crops to be banned throughout the island, is entitled to its point of view. What it is not entitled to do is start a health scare and bamboozle the public with buzz words such as "sustainability" and "natural".

Malcolm Thompson, president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, who is quoted by the lobby group, has added another dimension to the campaign. He says farmers will be quick to switch to GM-free products when they see them demanding a premium price. In other words, GM-Free Ireland can also be seen as a campaign for dearer food.

Darina Allen, the celebrity chef and owner of a cookery school, believes that "supporting the GM-free policy provides a way for every farmer, food producer and consumer to help create a sustainable future for us all". So it could be argued that much of the impetus for this campaign is about the bottom line.

Genetically modified foods have been around since about 1996 and there have been no proven adverse effects on human health. In America, 89% of soybeans, 60% of corn and 83% of cotton (whose oil we consume) are grown from GM stock. There have been no problems. On rare occasions when adverse effects were detected during animal testing, products were withdrawn. When a nut gene added to soy beans was suspected to be a possible trigger for nut allergy, production halted.

Compare that with the health record from "natural" food. BSE was given to us by farmers feeding cows the brains of other animals in preference to soya beans, which would have been more expensive. Foot and mouth was spread by the greed of a minority of farmers evading regulation. Our diet is unhealthy. Yet the governments north and south spend money promoting the consumption of more red meat and animal fat which, unlike GM foods, have proven health costs in the quantities in which they are consumed.

Ireland, under the combined influence of the Greens and the farming lobby, has a disgraceful record of blocking cheaper animal feed by abstaining in key votes on the authorisation of GM products, but later seeking export refunds for animal products because of increased feed costs.

The European commission estimates that the price of non-GM soybeans will rise by up to 600% in the next two years. That would drive food prices in a GM-free Ireland through the roof. In the UK, 54 genetically modified crops have been approved. Nearly all dairy, pork and red meat products, as well as many frozen and processed meat and dairy products, are produced from animals fed on GM crops, according to the Soil Association, which represents organic farmers. Even vegetarian rennet in cheese is a GM product. Opinion polls show that Europeans prefer non-GM food in principle, but Ireland's farming and GM-free lobby need to consider just how much of a premium people will pay if there is no benefit in taste or quality. The growth of cross-border shopping shows that price often trumps patriotism. The reasons we should embrace GM crops are simple: they are higher yield and easier to grow. Our present method of food production and consumption cannot be sustainable without a big reduction in population, perhaps through famine, a drop in meat consumption or both.

The world's population, estimated at 200m in 1AD, reached one billion in 1804. That was when Thomas Malthus, the political economist, wrote that "the power of population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race". His thinking shaped the laissez-faire attitude to the potato famine in Ireland.

Luckily there turned out to be a technical fix in the shape of the agricultural revolution, but if we had stuck to traditional methods we would have starved. The population rose to two billion in 1927 and topped three billion in 1959, around the time that the green revolution introduced high-yielding cultivars, chemical fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides, irrigation and large-scale farming. There will be nine billion of us by 2050 and food demand will have increased by anything from 56% to 120% compared with 2000. At the same time, food producers will be contending with increasing climate instability as well as loss of arable land by salinisation and erosion. Only about 18% of the planet's surface is arable land and, unless we can bring more into production, that percentage will be further reduced by housing and transport demands.

Feeding the world is a constant race for improved methods, and standing still isn't an option. That's why the scare stories and pseudo science pedalled by the anti GM-lobby need to be taken head on. The crankiest of them all is probably Prince Charles, who last year warned of "millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness". That is what is referred to as the "frigging Monsanto" argument after the corporation that takes the lead in GM crops. It produced herbicides to kill weeds and then genetically engineered seeds that could survive the herbicide. Some seeds have a "terminator gene" which makes them infertile in the second generation, forcing people to go back to Monsanto if they want more.

This is more a criticism of the tendency of capital to seek to expand and establish monopolies than of GM per se. The answer, as in other industries, is regulation and competition. As with drug companies, a limit could also be put on the length of time that a product can remain exclusive to its developer, with special dispensations for the Third World.

In some ways, though, Monsanto can't win. When it leaves out the terminator gene, as it frequently does, the accusation is that its product will cross-pollinate with other crops, producing so-called Frankenstein foods.

When it marketed crops that would not need spraying for pests because they produce BT, a toxin fatal to insects but harmless to humans, that too was criticised. When it was pointed out that BT was used by organic farmers, the next scare was that, if it was used widely, insects might develop resistance and then organic products would be eaten alive.

Those arguing against GM foods are full of superstitious what-ifs, but those are bridges that will have to be crossed if we come to them. It's a level of caution that we apply to few other human endeavours. It is not as if we have never tampered with nature. Highyield dairy cows would never have evolved in nature. They were selectively bred from wild ancestors and would die outside the unnatural environment of dairy farms. Yet nobody calls them Frankenstein buffalos.

All of our more than 200 varieties of dog were bred from wolves, yet who would argue that greyhounds or french poodles should be banned as unnatural abominations? It happens in food, too, where few of our staples would flourish in nature.

Compared with the genetic manipulation involved in selective breeding, not to mention techniques such as grafting and crosspollination in plants, genetic engineering is technically difficult, but not all that complicated.

All plants have a common ancestor and a fairly similar genome. Gene splicing between modern species may be innovative but the result is generally to get cells to produce, or fail to produce, a single protein. It has been compared with turning a single bolt in a car. It could conceivably cause a problem but it's possible to anticipate and test for that.

If, as argued, it is such a good idea to go GM-free because we are an island, why, one wonders, doesn't Australia declare itself the GM-free continent? Instead it has been licensing GM crops since 2000 without any apparent ill effects. Stormont should do everyone on this island a favour by blocking this screwy cross-border initiative. 'Feeding The World Means A Constant Race To Discover Improved Methods'

============

Ireland: Government's Stance on GM crops is Wrong-headed

- Shane H Morris, Sunday Tribune (Ireland), Nov 22, 2009 http://www.tribune.ie

I would like to bring to your attention an area what makes a mockery of Ireland's so-called "knowledge economy". Innovation and knowledge are words that are repeated often in the new programme for government.

However, in practice, it is clear the government has turned its back on the scientific search for knowledge by ruling out research trials on GM crops. This Luddite stance effectively throws the baby out with the bath water by refusing to even research the issue. This commitment goes against EU law, contradicts advice from the Irish chief science advisor, short changes Irish farmers and is a sad attempt to mislead the Irish public.

The ludicrous nature of this proposal is reflected in several facts. Firstly, EU regulations govern research trials of GM crops so it is not currently legally possible for the Irish government to ban such research. This was highlighted by Fianna Fail's Noel Dempsey when, as environment minister, he accepted as government policy an independent public consultation report which ruled out a ban on crop trials in Ireland stating that it would not be legally possible to ban them. The report also warned that, if Ireland rejects or ignores GM biotechnology, it will not remain attractive to investors in high-tech industries or competitive in food production.

Secondly, the current government has only recently drafted specific wording on research trials of GM crops in their Environment Liability Act which will regulate GM crops cultivated in Ireland under EU law. Such a move seems strange if they believe a programme for government can ban such research.

Thirdly, banning GM crop research trials would contradict the government's own Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (2006 to 2013) which identified the importance of building a capability in agri-biotechnology in order to assess, harness and adopt new technological innovations.

This goal will be impossible if GM crop research trials are banned.

In addition, it should be noted that the IFA, in their "Meeting Challenges" policy submission to government, stated: "Provided that the use and release of GMOs meet all the detailed regulatory requirements, IFA's assessment of GM technology is that, like science and technology generally, it can have many positive implications for agriculture and food production." This perspective was supported by professor Patrick Cunningham, Ireland's chief science advisor, who recently issued a report to the current government on GM foods. The report looked at safety, benefits and risks, and highlighted that GM technology was of value to Ireland. Public research into GM crop development is seen to be of growing importance for many countries, including our EU partners. On the global stage GM crop research is seen as a key technology platform. Cuba, the ultimate public sector state, has had 59 GM field trials. China has just committed to investing the equivalent of $3,500m of new public funds into GM crop research.

The new programme for government's shortsighted, scientifically unsupported GM policy, developed without any scientific, stakeholder or public consultation, now excludes the basic research and development tool of GM crop field trials. This puts Ireland at the back of the class in terms of EU research as scientific GM research trials in the EU now number over 2,400 and have reported no negative impacts on health or the environment. France, the bastion of good food, has sanctioned over 587 GM crop trials.

Fianna Fáil, who previously allowed research trials of GM crops in Ireland, have conceded to the ŕ la carte scientific illiteracy of the Greens. Like most irrational positions it is one of contradiction. While Irish publicly funded GM technology to prevent potato blight sits on a lab shelf, the current government is happy to let over 250,000 pounds of toxic fungicide be used annually on Irish potatoes against blight. Greens in government elsewhere in Europe have allowed GM crop research trials. So while the programme for government proclaims "Ireland will be a test-bed for emerging technologies", when it comes to agri-food innovation, the government is happy to hide under the bed. It makes a joke of Ireland's claim to be a leading science location.

Shane H Morris, Deparment of Biochemistry, Lee Maltings, Prospect Row, University College Cork

==============

China Has Approved GM Phytase Maize For Commercial Cultivation

Origin Agritech Announces Final Approval of World's First Genetically Modified Phytase Corn

- Business Wire (press release) via Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, November 21, 2009

Origin Agritech Limited (NASDAQ GS: SEED) ("Origin"), a leading technology-focused supplier of crop seeds and agri-biotech research in China, today announced it has received the Bio-safety Certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture as a final approval for commercial approval of the world's first genetically modified phytase corn. Origin's phytase corn is the first transgenic corn to officially introduce the next generation of corn product approved and sold commercially into the domestic marketplace.

Genetically modified seed products in China must undergo five separate stages of approval beginning with a phase one laboratory approval to the final receipt of the Bio-safety Certificate in phase five. Currently, this GM seed approval process is restricted only to domestic seed producers such as Origin Agritech.

Phytase is currently used as an additive in animal feed to breakdown phytic acid in corn, which holds 60% of the phosphorus in corn. Phytase increases phosphorus absorption in animals by 60%. Phosphorus is an essential element for the growth and development of all animals, and plays key roles in skeletal structure and in vital metabolic pathways. Phytase, as an additive for animal feed, is mandatory in Europe, Southeast Asia, South Korea, Japan, and other regions for environmental purposes.

Phytase transgenic corn, developed by and licensed from Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science (CAAS) after 7 years of study, will allow animal feed producers the ability to eliminate purchasing phytase and corn separately. It will eliminate the need for mixing the two ingredients together, saving time, machinery, and labor for the animal feed producers.

Origin's GMO phytase-producing corn is expected to reduce the need for inorganic phosphate supplements as animals will directly absorb more phosphate from their feed, reducing animal feed's high cost. Inorganic phosphates may be contaminated with fluorin and heavy metal residues created in the manufacturing process. These fluorin and heavy metal residues in the feedstuff are toxic to animals, and dangerous to humans. Origin plans to release further details of the development of their phytase product line as this develops.

Dr. Gengchen Han, Origin's Chairman said, "With this landmark seed approval, we are not only own the first GM corn seed product in China, but we are actively leading the new genetically modified generation of agricultural products for China, and will continue to do so for the future."

=============

Consumers Choose Locally Grown and Environmentally Friendly Apples

- ScienceDaily, Nov. 23, 2009 http://www.sciencedaily.com/

When asked to compare apples to apples, consumers said they would pay more for locally grown apples than genetically modified (GMO) apples. But in a second questionnaire consumers preferred GMO apples -- that is, when they were described, not as GMO, but as having a Reduced Environmental Impact. The research conducted by University of Illinois economist Michael Mazzocco and Augustana College marketing professor Nadia Novotorova demonstrated that product labeling makes a difference when it comes to consumer acceptance.

Mazzocco says it's about selling the benefits. "When GMO crops were first introduced, people called them 'Frankenfood' and emphasized the laboratory processes used in breeding. The benefit seemed to be for farmers who saved money by not having to spray their crops with chemicals."

The reality is that apples can be bred to be disease-resistant, so they don't have to be sprayed with fungicides and other chemicals 15 to 20 times per growing season. This attribute gives them reduced environmental impact, and that's a benefit consumers can wrap their teeth around, as well as their wallets.

"One thing we learned was that if you're going to get any benefit from technology, you're going to have to communicate the benefits of it," Mazzocco said. "People aren't willing to pay you for the technology just so they can have another attribute. There's an equal trade-off. But, when you don't call it GMO and instead you communicate the benefit to the environment, it's more than a one-to-one trade-off and consumers are willing to pay more for it."

No apples were tasted, handled or even seen. "In both questionnaires, people rated apples based on a description. We were trying to identify where the trade-offs are between the attributes," Mazzocco said. "People don't want an apple. What they want is the attributes of the apple -- nutrition, flavor, color, etc.
"But, an apple also comes with other attributes. Like the guilt from using all of that diesel fuel from transporting it from the state of Washington to Illinois or the fear of feeding your children what might be Frankenfood," Mazzocco said.

Both surveys began by giving the participants the identical short lesson in apple growing which included information about apple diseases and pests and how disease-resistant apples are developed. One apple is made through laboratory techniques where a naturally occurring scab-resistant gene from an apple was inserted into another variety of apple that's your favorite -- the one you would normally buy. This apple that has the gene inserted in a laboratory can reduce apple spraying 15 to 20 times per season in an orchard in the Midwest for an apple grower that's susceptible to apple scab.

"A conventional apple, a non-cloned apple, grown in a typical apple growing region in Washington, Michigan, or New York, probably is not susceptible to apple scab and has fewer sprays. So in order to have a locally grown apple in the Midwest you're going to have to do something about apple scab otherwise you may not have a crop," Mazzocco said.

Given that information, 200 people rated 12 combinations of attributes of apples. For example, one might be $1.39 a pound, produced far away, and conventionally grown. Another apple might be $1.59, locally grown, and GMO. For the second study, a separate set of 200 people's questionnaire described the attribute as "reduced environmental impact" rather than GMO. Everything else was the same.

"Looking at the rankings of all of the combinations of attributes, and the comparison of the weightings of the importance of the various factors -- what it boils down to is that people will pay more for reduced environmental impact. When you call it a GMO, there are some who will steer away from it, but on average they're indifferent. They'll trade local for GMO," Mazzocco said.

"We concluded that the benefits of genetic modification are something that consumers can get their arms around. People understand the benefit that with these apples you have fewer fungicide sprays around your neighborhood and your waterways in order to enable locally grown apples -- grown in the Midwest."

The study also found that people aged 65 and older have a stronger preference for conventional apples. "When we called it a GMO apple, the people aged 65 and older reacted to that. When you call it reduced environmental impact, they didn't react to it as much and younger people trend towards it.
"The message is that we need to be careful what we label things and to communicate the benefits," Mazzocco said.

Consumer Preferences and Trade-Offs for Locally Grown and Genetically Modified Apples: A Conjoint Analysis Approach appeared in a 2008 issue of International Food and Agribusiness Management Review.

--
Impact of Product Attribute Wording on Consumer Acceptance of Biotechnology Applications in Produce. Journal of Food Distribution Research, November 2009

=====================

U.S. Farmers Continue to Favor Biotech Crop Varieties

- Biotechnology Industry Organization , November 17, 2009 http://bio.org

American farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) crops widely since their introduction in 1996 because of the tangible benefits that biotech varieties deliver.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. farmers have embraced biotech varieties of soybeans, cotton and corn at the rate of 91 percent, 88 percent and 85 percent, respectively. This is because agricultural biotechnology allows farmers to grow more food on less land using farming practices that are more cost effective and environmentally sustainable.

Despite these convincing statistics, a report titled Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years, claims "farmers are increasingly critical of GE crops."

Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, Executive Vice President, Food and Agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), issued the following statement in response:

"There's no doubt that farmers continue to embrace biotechnology because of the benefits these products deliver, specifically crops that yield more per acre with lower production costs while using farming practices that better protect the land and environment.

"This is especially true for American farmers, four out of five of whom choose biotech crop varieties over conventional crops that require more production inputs such as sprays to control insect pests and tilling to control weeds.

"Thanks to biotechnology, farmers have adopted no- and reduced-tillage systems which utilize herbicidal weed control rather than plowing. This is delivering important benefits in the form of improved soil health and water retention, reduced runoff, fuel conservation, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and more efficient carbon storage in the soil.

"In 2007, the fuel savings alone was equivalent to removing 31.2 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing nearly 6.3 million cars from the road for one year.

"Furthermore, biotech crop varieties have dramatically reduced farmers' reliance on pesticide applications. Since 1997, the use of pesticides on global biotech crop acreage has been reduced by 790 million pounds, an 8.8 percent reduction.

"Decades of documented evidence demonstrates that agricultural biotechnology is a safe and beneficial technology that contributes to both environmental and economic sustainability. Many experts agree that agricultural biotechnology has an important role to play in helping to feed and fuel a growing world. In the future, biotechnology's benefits will only improve."

===================

GMO, Biodiesel Situations Looming Heavy On Trade Relations

- Nicholas Zeman, BioDiesel Magazine, Nov. 24, 2009 http://www.biodieselmagazine.com

United States trade relations with the EU remain strained in late 2009 with soybeans and biodiesel being at the center of the controversy. Unapproved genetically modified crops are causing EU processors to source beans from nontraditional channels, and low-level biodiesel blend imports are prompting protectionist statements from the European biodiesel industry.

FEDIOL, the organization that represents the European seed and bean crushers, as well as meals, oils and fats processors, stated in October that the EU’s zero tolerance policy toward unapproved genetically modified (GM) crops “increase their warnings over the severity of the problem of scarce soybean supplies in the EU after agriculture ministers meeting yesterday again failed to take responsibility for dealing effectively with the issue. Without a clear and effective response—urgently—the problem will get far worse.”

John Dodson, Tennessee soybean farmer and former president of the American Soybean Association, said that importers and exporters do not want to take the chance of a “boatload of beans” being stopped at a port and losing the money of the delivery contract.

Since minute traces of U.S. approved genetically modified maize not yet authorized in the EU were discovered in consignments from the U.S. in August 2009, which breeched the EU’s policy of zero tolerance, around 180,000 tons of U.S. soybeans have been denied entry to the EU, FEDIOL said. “Whatever precautions are taken, it is not possible to guarantee the absence of minute levels of foreign materials, other than by ceasing the trade altogether, a problem the EU’s own Joint Research Centre has also recently identified in its report on the GM pipeline.”

Three of the four GM corn events have been approved and the EU is likely to approve the last before the end of the year, Dodson told Biodiesel Magazine. “For those having to source non-GM soybeans from South America this time of year, the cost is significant,” Dodson said. “South America is about out of soybeans and the cost is greater because the shipping distance [from South America to Europe] is farther especially when compared to New Orleans and other U.S. ports on the East Coast.”

Natalie Lecocq, director general for FEDIOL, said in November that EU buyers have paid a premium price for soybeans from Latin America. EU members crush 30 million tons of oilseeds every year and comprise the second largest world market for vegetable oils after China. “It’s exactly right that soybeans from Latin America get scarce this time of year,” Lecocq said. “We hope that the MIR-604 corn is approved by the end of the year but there is a lengthy approval process that must be followed according to EU rules, which cannot be circumvented.”

With the current lack of alternatives and still no immediate action from the European Commission to propose a technical solution in the form of a so-called “low-level presence (LLP) threshold” for food and feed, this situation will leave Europe’s farmers, livestock producers and agricultural trade, “as well as food and feed processing industries, in an extremely precarious position, keeping the global competitiveness of the EU agricultural sector at risk,” FEDIOL said. “The threat of layoffs in the trade and processing industries of already vulnerable livestock farmers going out of business, and of consumers being hit through knock-on effects on choice, availability and price all still remain.”

FEDIOL further urged EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou to come forward urgently with a proposed technical solution on zero tolerance for food and feed. “Without it, the situation could prove explosive for the whole food and feed chain,” FEDIOL said.

==============

Insect Resistance to Bt Crops can be Predicted, Monitored, and Managed

http://www.entsoc.org/resources/press_releases/2009_btcrops.htm

Since 1996, crop plants genetically modified to produce bacterial proteins that are toxic to certain insects, yet safe for people, have been planted on more than 200 million hectares worldwide. The popularity of these Bt crops, named after the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, comes from their ability to kill some major pests, allowing farmers to save money and lessen environmental impacts by reducing insecticide sprays.

However, since insects can evolve resistance to toxins, strategies must be implemented to ensure that Bt crops remain effective. A new study published in the December issue of Journal of Economic Entomology entitled “Field-Evolved Insect Resistance to Bt Crops: Definition, Theory, and Data” ([ http://sz0134.wc.mail.comcast.net/btcrops.pdf ]http://www.entsoc.org/btcrops.pdf) analyzes insect resistance data from five continents, as reported in 41 studies, and concludes that existing theories and strategies can be used to predict, monitor, and manage insect resistance to Bt crops.

According to lead author Dr. Bruce E. Tabashnik, “Resistance is not something to be afraid of, but something that we expect and can manage if we understand it. Dozens of studies monitoring how pests have responded to Bt crops have created a treasure trove of data showing that resistance has emerged in a few pest populations, but not in most others. By systematically analyzing the extensive data, we can learn what accelerates resistance and what delays it. With this knowledge, we can more effectively predict and thwart pest resistance.”

Among the authors’ conclusions are:
* The refuge strategy (growing non-Bt crops near the Bt crops) can slow the evolution of insect resistance by increasing the chances of resistant insects mating with non-resistant ones, resulting in non-resistant offspring.
* Crops that are “pyramided” to incorporate two or more Bt toxins are more effective at controlling insect resistance when they are used independently from crops that contain only one Bt toxin.
* Resistance monitoring can be especially effective when insects collected from the field include survivors from Bt crops.
* DNA screening can complement traditional methods for monitoring resistance, such as exposing insects to toxins in the lab.
* Despite a few documented cases of field-evolved resistance to the Bt toxins in transgenic crops, most insect pest populations are still susceptible.

With Bt crop acreage increasing worldwide, incorporating enhanced understanding of observed patterns of field-evolved resistance into future resistance management strategies can help to minimize the drawbacks and maximize the benefits of current and future generations of transgenic crops.

The full article is available at http://www.entsoc.org/btcrops.pdf

========

Extrapolating Non-Target Risk of Bt Crops From Laboratory to Field

- Jian J. Duan et al., Biology Letters -
http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2009/09/08/rsbl.2009.0612.full?sid=fd7d9161-e464-4593-8580-30048a816f47

The tiered approach to assessing ecological risk of insect-resistant transgenic crops assumes that lower tier laboratory studies, which expose surrogate non-target organisms to high doses of insecticidal proteins, can detect harmful effects that might be manifested in the field. To test this assumption, we performed meta-analyses comparing results for non-target invertebrates exposed to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Cry proteins in laboratory studies with results derived from independent field studies examining effects on the abundance of non-target invertebrates.

For Lepidopteran-active Cry proteins, laboratory studies correctly predicted the reduced field abundance of non-target Lepidoptera. However, laboratory studies incorporating tri-trophic interactions of Bt plants, herbivores and parasitoids were better correlated with the decreased field abundance of parasitoids than were direct-exposure assays. For predators, laboratory tri-trophic studies predicted reduced abundances that were not realized in field studies and thus overestimated ecological risk. Exposure to Coleopteran-active Cry proteins did not significantly reduce the laboratory survival or field abundance of any functional group examined.

Our findings support the assumption that laboratory studies of transgenic insecticidal crops show effects that are either consistent with, or more conservative than, those found in field studies, with the important caveat that laboratory studies should explore all ecologically relevant routes of exposure.

====================

Entire Genetic Diversity of Rice to be Revealed and Shared

http://beta.irri.org/

Manila, Philippines – The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is inviting the global rice science community to join its vision to reveal the genetic diversity of more than 109,000 different types of rice and to make it available for rice breeders and farmers worldwide to breed and develop new rice varieties.

The vision aims to sequence the genomes, or all the genetic information, of all different types of rice in the International Rice Genebank - the world's most comprehensive collection of rice genetic diversity including wild rice, rice's ancestors, and traditional, heirloom and modern varieties.

"If we can sequence the genomes of all types of rice we have truly opened the door to understanding the rich genetic diversity of rice, to help conserve that diversity better and to use it to breed improved rice varieties," said IRRI Director General, Dr. Robert Zeigler.

"In 2005, the sequencing of the first type of rice was a milestone. However, the genome sequence of one type of rice does not reflect the immense genetic diversity of all types of rice."

"All rice types need to be sequenced to capture the entire genetic diversity of rice. Rapidly progressing technologies have made this a realistic goal - achievable within a few years."

IRRI already shares seeds from the International Rice Genebank with farmers and rice breeders worldwide, the genome information from the sequencing will also be shared.

Speaking at the 6th International Rice Genetics Symposium (RG6) in Manila, Dr. Zeigler outlined a plan to achieve the vision that involves empowering national research and breeding programs from major rice-growing countries, and training the next generation of rice scientists.

The announcement is one of many rice research projects highlighted at RG6 where more than 700 leading international rice scientists are meeting to share knowledge on rice genetics.

"The real power of genome sequencing will be when we identify which genes are responsible for which traits," said Dr. Zeigler. "To do this we will need to collaborate with our global scientific partners across the public and private sector - RG6 is the perfect place to start this process.

"New rice varieties developed using the genetic diversity of rice have already helped double rice yields in the last fifty years, helping keep food prices low, averting famine, and preventing many natural ecosystems being converted to farmland.

"Sequencing the genomes of the entire collection of the International Rice Genebank will provide a platform that rice breeders can use to rapidly identify the genetic source of beneficial rice traits such as pest and disease resistance or the capacity to cope with climate change.

"These genes and their associated traits can then be bred into new rice varieties better able to cope with difficult growing conditions and with the capacity for higher yields," he concluded.

IRRI will now look for partners and donors to support its vision.

=========================

Experts Have Supported Genetically Modified Brinjal: India's Environment Minister

- Thai Indian News, November 24, 2009 http://www.thaindian.com

The genetically modified Bt Brinjal has been developed in compliance with international norms and experts evaluating it have found no danger in it, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said here Tuesday.

Supporting the experts’ panel — which has been criticised by many independent scientists and green activists, the minister told the Rajya Sabha in reply to a question: “Bt Brinjal event EE-1 has been developed in compliance with the prevailing regulatory procedures and biosafety guidelines which conform to the international norms”.

Ramesh informed the parliament’s upper house: “The environmental safety studies have been carried out on pollen escape out-crossing, aggressiveness and weediness, effect of the gene on non-target organisms, presence of the protein in soil and its effect on soil microflora, confirmation of the absence of terminator gene and baseline susceptibility studies.” “The food and feed safety assessment studies carried out include composition analysis, allergenicity and toxicological studies, and feeding studies on fish, chicken, cows and buffaloes,” he added.

The Indian branch of international NGO Greenpeace has been spearheading the opposition to introduction of Bt Brinjal in India, pointing out that the European Union had banned genetically modified crops. The minister, however, said: “The cumulative results of more than 50 field trials conducted to assess the safety, efficacy and agronomic performance of Bt Brinjal demonstrates that Cry1Ac protein in Bt Brinjal provides effective protection from the Fruit and Shoot Borer, a major pest in brinjal crop; resulting in enhanced economic benefits to the farmers and traders accrued from higher marketable yield and lower usage of pesticide sprays.”

After the approval by the experts’ panel, it is now up to the environment ministry to approve or reject the introduction of the genetically modified crop in India. Ramesh has said the ministry will take a decision after holding a number of public hearings in January and February.

==========================

Bt Brinjal in India

- Knowledge Center, ISAAA, http://www.isaaa.org/kc/

Brinjal or baingan, known as eggplant and aubergine in North America and Europe respectively, is a very important common man’s vegetable in India. It is often described as a poor man’s vegetable because it is popular amongst small-scale farmers and low income consumers. A poor man’s crop it might be, but brinjal is also called by some as the ‘King of Vegetables’. It is featured in the dishes of virtually every household in India, regardless of food preferences, income levels and social status. Low in calories and high in nutrition, the vegetable has very high water content and is a very good source of fiber, calcium, phosphorus, folate, and vitamins B and C. It is also used in ayurvedic medicine for curing diabetes, hypertension and obesity. In addition, dried brinjal shoots are used as fuel in rural areas. Brinjal has embedded itself deeply into the Indian culture. Numerous folk songs in Indian languages center on the humble vegetable.

Brinjal is grown on nearly 550,000 hectares in India, making the country the second largest producer after China with a 26% world production share. It is an important cash crop for more than 1.4 million small, marginal and resource-poor farmers. Brinjal, being a hardy crop that yields well even under drought conditions, is grown in almost all parts of the country. Major brinjal producing states include: West Bengal (30% production share), Orissa (20%), and Gujarat and Bihar (around 10% each). In 2005-2006, the national average productivity of brinjal was recorded around 15.6 tons per hectare.

In spite of its popularity among small and resource-poor farmers, brinjal cultivation is often input intensive, especially for insecticide applications. Brinjal is prone to attack from insect pests and diseases, the most serious and destructive of which is the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) Leucinodes orbonalis. FSB feeds predominantly on brinjal and is prevalent in all brinjal producing states. It poses a serious problem because of its high reproductive potential. FSB larvae bore into tender shoots and fruits, retarding plant growth, making the fruits unsuitable for the market and unfit for human consumption. Fruit damage as high as 95% and losses of up to 70% in commercial plantings have been reported.

Farmers resort to frequent insecticide applications and biological control measures to counter the threat of FSB. However, since FSB larvae are concealed within shoots and fruits, the pest normally escapes insecticide sprays. Therefore farmers tend to over-spray insecticides, because they rely mainly on the subjective assessments of the visual presence of the pest. In addition to the financial cost associated with indiscriminate insecticide applications and its negative effects on the environment, high pesticide residues in vegetables and fruits pose serious risk to consumers’ health and safety.

Although, several attempts have been made to develop resistant cultivars through traditional plant breeding, these have met with limited or almost no success. There are no existing brinjal varieties with adequate resistance to FSB in India. Accordingly, scientists have used biotechnology to develop a brinjal variety that can resist FSB attack.

India’s First Vegetable Biotech Crop
FSB-resistant brinjal or Bt brinjal was developed using a transformation process similar to the one used in the development of Bt cotton, a biotech crop that was planted on 7.6 million hectares in India in 2008. Bt brinjal incorporates the cry1Ac gene expressing insecticidal protein to confer resistance against FSB. The cry1Ac gene is sourced from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). When ingested by the FSB larvae, the Bt protein is activated in the insect’s alkaline gut and binds to the gut wall, which breaks down, allowing the Bt spores to invade the insect’s body cavity. The FSB larvae die a few days later.

Bt Brinjal was developed by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco). The company used a DNA construct containing the cry1Ac gene, a CaMV 35S promoter and the selectable marker genes nptII and aad, to transform young cotyledons of brinjal plants. A single copy elite event, named EE-1, was selected and introduced into hybrid brinjal in Mahyco’s breeding program. Mahyco also generously donated the Bt brinjal technology to the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore and University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad. The event EE-1 was backcrossed into open-pollinated brinjal varieties. Mahyco also donated the technology to public research institutions in the Philippines and Bangladesh.

Several other research institutions, both public and private have also been developing Bt brinjal using different genes. The National Center on Plant Biotechnology (NRCPB) has developed Bt brinjal varieties expressing the cryFa1 gene. The technology was subsequently transferred to companies including Bejo Sheetal, Vibha Seeds, Nath Seeds and Krishidhan Seeds. The Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR) is also developing Bt brinjal using the cry1Ab gene. Scientists are also looking for ways to develop Bt brinjal in conjunction with other multiple and beneficial traits.

Climbing the Regulatory Ladder
Bt brinjal is the first food crop under evaluation for commercial release in India. Since its development in 2000, the crop has undergone rigorous scientific evaluation to assess its food safety, environmental safety, human and animal health safety and biodiversity. Figure 1 summarizes the protocol followed for the regulatory approval of Bt brinjal.

Biosafety and Food Safety Assessments: Rigorous scientific tests, including toxicity and allergenicity evaluation as well as nutritional studies on rabbits, rats, carps, goats, broiler chickens and dairy cows, have confirmed that Bt brinjal is as safe as its non-Bt counterparts. The safety of Bt brinjal was further validated by the results of the studies on pollen escape, effects on soil microflora and non-target organisms, agronomy, invasiveness and Bt protein degradation. Results of the studies demonstrated that Bt brinjal does not affect beneficial insects such as aphids, leafhoppers, spiders and lady beetles.

Farmer and Consumer Benefits: Bt brinjal was found to be effective against FSB, with 98% insect mortality in Bt brinjal shoots and 100% in fruits compared to less than 30% mortality in non-Bt counterparts. The Multilocation Research Trials (MLRTs) confirmed that Bt brinjal required, on average, 77% less insecticides than non-Bt counterparts for control of FSB, and 42% less for the control of all insect pests of brinjal. The benefits of Bt brinjal, translate to an average increase of 116% in marketable fruits over conventional hybrids, and 166% increase over popular open-pollinated varieties (OPVs). Furthermore, the significant decrease in insecticide usage reduced the farmers’ exposure to insecticides and results in a substantial decline in pesticide residues in brinjal fruits. Scientists have estimated that Bt brinjal will deliver farmers a net economic benefit ranging from Rs.16, 299 (US$330) to Rs.19,744 (US$397) per acre with national benefits to India exceeding $400 million per year.

Conclusion : Bt brinjal has enormous potential to benefit both farmers and consumers. Results of studies submitted to regulatory authorities in India confirm that Bt brinjal offers the opportunity to provide effective control against fruit and shoot borer, and decrease insecticide input by as much as 80%. Bt brinjal also yields significantly more marketable fruit than conventional hybrids and open-pollinated varieties.

The remarkable success of Bt cotton in India, which now occupies 80% of the 9.4 million hectares planted to cotton in the country, is a clear demonstration that biotechnology can be harnessed to contribute to alleviation of poverty and hunger. The development of Bt brinjal, the first biotech vegetable crop, is an appropriate and timely step because it will further demonstrate the significant benefits that biotechnology offers farmers, consumers and India as a nation.

In this context, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), in its 97th meeting held on 14th Oct 2009 has recommended the commercial release of Bt Brinjal Event EE-1 developed indigenously by Mahyco in collaboration with the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad and the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore. This is a penultimate step to commercialize Bt brinjal hybrids and varieties in the country (MOEF, 2009).

The insect-resistant Bt brinjal hybrids and varieties were developed through close and harmonious cooperation between public and private research institutions. The joint contribution of the two sectors is of critical importance, given that national food security is a strategic issue. The adoption and acceptance of Bt brinjal by farmers and consumers in India will be a very important event from which the country and the world can benefit enormously.

References, Fig.1 and downloadable pdfs in various Indian languages at
http://www.isaaa.org/kc/inforesources/publications/pocketk/default.html#Pocket_K_No._35.htm

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What Does India’s Bt Cotton Experience Tell Us? - Delhi Lecture by Ron Herring

- V.T. Krishnamachari Memorial Lecture 'Global Rifts Over Biotechnology' by Professor Ronald Herring (Cornell University) on December 2, 2009, 4.30 pm, Sri Ramakrishna Hall at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University.

Also on December 3,A half day conference on ‘GM Crops and Food Security’ will be held at the India International Centre, Conference Room II, 9.00 am to 1.00 pm.

For information: Prof. Bina Agarwal, Director and Prof. of Economics, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University, India; Tel: +9111-27667570/27667424 http://www.binaagarwal.com