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December 7, 2009


Copenhagen Climate Change Summit; Feeding the World in the Face of Climate Change; Modified Opinions: Food Sustainability


* Priorities for the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit
* Feeding the World in the Face of Climate Change
* China Approves Biotech Rice and Maize In Landmark Decision
* Modified Opinions: Food Sustainability
* The Magnitude and Impacts of the Biotech and Organic Seed Price Premium
* Biotechnology Based Sustainable Agriculture (International Conference)


Priorities for the 7 December Copenhagen Climate Change Summit

- Open letter from EuropaBio to President Barroso: Brussels, 7 December 2009

Dear President Barroso, As discussions open at the UN Conference in Copenhagen today we congratulate you on your leadership so far in the field of climate change. Under your last tenure, the EU led the way in recognising the scale and urgency of action needed and is now committed to revolutionising its economy in order to meet the global challenges that climate change will bring. As your next administration begins, we particularly welcome the creation of the roles of Commissioner for Climate Action and Chief Scientific Advisor to help continue vital work in this field.

However, in order to convince other nations to embark on a similar path, the EU must demonstrate that it is capable of delivering emissions reductions and adapting to the unavoidable effects of climate change, whilst also improving prosperity and well-being.

Biotechnology provides an essential toolbox of solutions in the task of mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change. Biotechnology allows to complement and possibly rethink traditional industrial and agricultural processes. By delivering competitive industrial and agricultural performance, biotechnology enhances economic growth and agricultural production, while at the same time saving water, energy, raw materials and reducing emissions and waste.

EuropaBio and its member companies encourage governments around the world to develop a policy framework that strongly supports the further development and deployment of these technologies.

Industrial or ‘White’ biotechnology offers the realistic prospect of substituting renewable raw materials for fossil fuels in selected applications with associated emissions reductions of between 1 and 2.5 billion tonnes annually by 2030 (See Annexe for WWF report: “Biotechnology - More than green fuel in a dirty economy?”, September 2009).

Agricultural or ‘Green' biotechnology enables agriculture to adapt to an unpredictable climate and ensures that production keeps up with rising demand across the world in an environmentally sustainable manner. The EU and its Member States must ensure that its proposals for the current talks in Copenhagen enable the deployment of biotechnology to these ends.

Key to doing so are the following priorities:
* Strong domestic emission caps covering all major economies and all sectors of the economy. This will ensure that the carbon benefits of biotechnology are properly priced into deployment decisions by companies or governments considering using its applications;

* Offset markets should be developed to allow and encourage emission reductions through the application of biotechnology. This is particularly important in agriculture, where the huge mitigation opportunities can be captured more quickly, sustainably and economically than in many other areas;

* IPR for biotechnology and other low carbon technologies must be adequately protected in order for such essential innovations to be further developed;

* The developed world should provide an adaptation framework and funding mechanism to provide solutions to protect the developing world’s most vulnerable populations from the effects of climate change.

As the Commission itself has already acknowledged, combining support for Key Enabling Technologies such as Biotechnology and efforts to tackle climate change would facilitate the financing of Europe's commitments under international climate change agreements.

In addition to putting in place an enabling regulatory environment for biotechnology, policy makers must also encourage investment in research and technology to ensure that innovation and creativity are adequately funded from discovery through to economic deployment.

It is critical that Europe continues to play a leading role to ensure that the outcome of this month’s meeting in Copenhagen promotes and enables use of the full range of tools available, including the many solutions provided by biotechnology, in meeting global climate change goals. We look forward to working together with your new administration to harness the benefits and potential of biotechnology for Europe.

Yours sincerely, Willy De Greef , Secretary General, EuropaBio


Feeding the World in the Face of Climate Change

- Agriculture & Rural Development Day at COP15 http://www.agricultureday.org

'Agriculture and Development Leaders Meet in Copenhagen to Map Priority Actions Needed to Prepare Farming for Climate Threat and Reduce Its Environmental Footprint'

The ability of agriculture to adapt and withstand the impacts of climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Climate change presents a very real threat to the livelihoods and food security for millions of people in developing countries. Yet, agriculture is also adding to the climate change problem. Current practices, including the conversion of forests and grasslands for crops and pasture, contribute some 31 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

A changing planet brings an unprecedented opportunity to turn around agriculture in developing countries, making it more sustainable, reducing its negative impacts on the global environment, and at the same time, enhancing food security.

Agriculture & Rural Development Day (ARDD) is a one-day event on Saturday, 12 December 2009 at the Faculty of Life Sciences (LIFE) at the University of Copenhagen that will bring together approximately 300 policymakers, negotiators, rural development practitioners, producers, civil society and the agricultural and climate change scientific community, in order to build consensus on what has to be done to fully incorporate agriculture into the post-Copenhagen climate agenda, and to discuss a clear work plan of strategies and actions needed to address climate change adaptation and mitigation in the agriculture sector.

Key speakers:
Gordon Conway, Professor of International Development, Imperial College London
Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD
Katherine Sierra, Chair of CGIAR and Vice President for Sustainable Development, World Bank
Ajay Vashee, President of International Federation of Agricultural Producers – IFAP
M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman, M.S Swaminathan Research Foundation
Adel El-Beltagy, Chair of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research – GFAR
Maura O’Neill, Senior Advisor for Energy and Climate and Chief of Staff to the Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics, US Department of Agriculture

Key issues that will be discussed at ARDD:
Impact of climate change on development, poverty and food security
Adaptation: Triple challenge of increasing food productivity, climate resilience and reducing emissions
Mitigation: Unlocking the potential of emissions markets for smallholder farmers
Innovations in the agricultural sector of relevance to the climate change agenda


China Approves Biotech Rice and Maize In Landmark Decision

- Clive James, Chair of ISAAA and author of the ISAAA Annual Brief on Biotech/GM Crops.

'China completes its approval of a troika of key biotech crops – fiber (Bt cotton), feed (phytase maize) and food (Bt rice)'

In the ISAAA 2008 Brief, I predicted “a new wave of adoption of biotech crops….providing a seamless interface with the first wave of adoption, resulting in continued and broad-based strong growth in global hectarage”. This prediction started to become reality in the latter half of November 2009, when within the short span of one week, China’s Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) granted two biosafety certificates, and approved biotech Bt rice, (rice is the most important food crop in the world that feeds half of humanity), and biotech phytase maize, (maize is the most important feed crop in the world).

The two approvals have momentous positive implications for biotech crops in China, Asia and the whole world. It is important to note that the MOA conducted a very careful due diligence study, prior to clearing these two critically important biotech crops for full commercialization in about 2 to 3 years, pending completion of the standard registration field trials which applies to all new conventional and biotech crops. It is noteworthy that China has now completed approval of a troika of the key biotech crops in a logical chronology – first was FIBER (cotton), second was FEED (maize) and third was FOOD (rice). The potential benefits of these 3 crops for China are enormous and summarized below

* Bt cotton – China has successfully planted Bt cotton since 1997 and now over 7 million small farmers in China are already increasing their income by approx $220 per hectare (equivalent to $1 billion nationally) due, on average, to a 10% increase in yield, a 60% reduction in insecticides, both of which contribute to a more sustainable agriculture and prosperity of small poor farmers. China is the largest producer of cotton in the world, with 68% of its 5.6 million hectares successfully planted with Bt cotton in 2008

* Bt rice offers the potential to generate benefits of $4 billion annually from an average yield increase of 8 %, and a 80% decrease in insecticides, equivalent to 17 kg per hectare on China’s major staple food crop, rice, which occupies 30 million hectares (Jikun Huang et al, 2005). It is estimated that 75% of all rice in China is infested with the rice-borer pest, which Bt rice controls. China is the biggest producer of rice in the world (178 million tons of paddy) with 110 million rice households (a total of 440 million people based on 4 per family) who could benefit directly as farmers from this technology, as well as China’s 1.3 billion rice consumers. Bt rice will increase productivity of more affordable rice at the very time when China needs new technology to maintain self-sufficiency and increase food production to overcome drought, salinity, pests and other yield constraints associated with climate change and dropping water tables

* Phytase maize. China, after the US, is the second largest grower of maize in the world (30 million hectares grown by 100 million households); it is principally used for animal feed. Maintaining self-sufficiency in maize and meeting the increased demand for more meat in a more prosperous China is an enormous challenge. For example China’s swine herd, the biggest in the world, increased 100 fold from 5 million in 1968 to over 500 million today. Phytase maize will allow pigs to digest more phosphorus, resulting in faster growth/more efficient meat production, and coincidentally result in a reduction of phosphate pollution from animal waste into soil and extensive bodies of water and aquifers.

The above advantages of Bt cotton, Bt rice and phytase maize, (importantly, all developed by Chinese public sector institutions) also offer similar benefits to other developing countries, particularly in Asia, (but also elsewhere in the world) which have very similar crop production constraints. Asia grows and consumes 90 % of the production from the world’s 150 million hectares of rice, and Bt rice can have enormous impact in Asia. It could not only contribute to increase productivity but could also make a substantive contribution to the alleviation of poverty for poor small farmers who represent 50% of the world’s poor.

Similarly, there are up to 50 million hectares of maize in Asia that could benefit from biotech maize. China’s exertion of global leadership in approving biotech rice and maize will likely result in a positive influence on acceptance and speed of adoption of biotech food and feed crops in Asia, and more generally globally, particularly in developing countries . The approval and deployment by China of the most important food and feed crops in the world, biotech rice and maize, to maintain “self-sufficiency” as opposed to “food security”, (the distinction is important) can serve as a model for other developing countries which could have substantive implications for:

* a more timely and efficient approval process for biotech crops in developing countries;
* new modes of South-South technology transfer and sharing, including public/private sector partnerships;
* more orderly international trade in rice and reduction in probability of recurrence of 2008-type price hikes, which were devastating for the poor;
* shift of more authority and responsibility to developing countries to optimize “self sufficiency” and provide more incentive for their involvement to deliver their share of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

Finally, Bt rice and phytase maize should be seen as only the first of many agronomic and quality biotech traits to be integrated into improved biotech crops, with significant enhanced yield and quality, which can contribute to the doubling of food, feed and fiber production on less resources, particularly water and nitrogen, by 2050.The approval by China of the first major biotech food crop, Bt rice, can be the unique global catalyst for both the public and private sectors from developing and industrial countries to work together in a global initiative toward the noble goal of “food for all and self sufficiency” in a more just society.

NOTE # of avian species in 1968 was 12.3 million, in 2005 13 billion !!!
# of Pigs in China, 508 million, is approx half of world swine herd at about 1 billion


Modified Opinions: Food Sustainability

- Editorial, The Guardian (London), Dec 4, 2009

Historians of the future may mark the early 21st century as the point where the science of agriculture finally broke into public understanding. Ten years of ill-tempered debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has had many malign effects, not least adding to public scepticism about science and scientists. But it has had one benign one. It has pumped dye into the veins of the global food business, graphically illustrating the monopolistic ambitions of agribusiness and ultimately, perhaps, its ability to control the very food we eat.

On Wednesday night a debate on GMOs at the illustrious Royal Society of Chemistry HQ in London suggested a breakthrough. Afterwards the feeling was that it was a win on points for the GM sceptics. This is not what was meant to happen: the scientific community, and the government, insist Britain's future food sustainability depends on employing some form of GM to increase yields, as the Royal Society recently argued. But they can take heart: the debate was less a defeat for GM than for the way it has developed. The corollary is that if the government really believes that the only way to increase yields is through GM technology, it will have to fund this itself.

The winning argument on Wednesday was not really about science at all, but about the ethics of a method of increasing yields that delivers such power into the hands of the multinationals. Yesterday the Soil Association published a report claiming that next year's GM soya bean seed will cost US farmers almost half as much again as this year's. Genetically modified seed is, as a technology, intended primarily to benefit the corporations that develop it. Claims that it is the way to save the world came later. This does not necessarily make it a bad technology; it only means - as Sussex University's Erik Millstone argued in the debate - its commercial trajectory is too narrow to provide much in the way of answers to global hunger. It is a technology developed for large-scale agriculture in advanced capitalist economies that has scant regard for other producers or other economic models. It has been accompanied by unsubstantiated claims which, according to independent scientists backed by the powerful voice of Scientific American, cannot be tested, since all research on GM seed has to be licensed as part of the impenetrable defences erected by agribusiness around its expensive patents.

This model excludes all kinds of developments that might make a more significant contribution to food sustainability than merely increasing yield (often by enabling heavier use of herbicides or pesticides). Food sustainability in an era of climate change requires not only, nor even primarily, higher yields, but greater resilience - the ability to survive in harsher conditions and on poorer soils. There is work to be done on developments that would lower the need for high-cost (and often high-carbon) inputs, by for example developing crops grown as annuals into perennials, or breeding varieties that do not require soil cultivation, or that improve the soil by fixing nitrogen.

Here, GM may be a small part of the answer. But it has a mixed record in Asia, where it has tended to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor, and it is unlikely to be any part of the answer to food security in Africa for the foreseeable future. As the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation pointed out last year, there is enough food for everyone. It just isn't available in the right places. Subsistence farmers are cut off from all but the most local markets, and if they take the risk of buying commercial GM seed their increased yield might just lower local prices. They need simpler improvements. And globally the need is for publicly funded science to investigate sustainable agriculture in the widest possible meaning of the word: better farming practices, a viable pricing system and, for the global north, a radical change in patterns of consumption.


The Magnitude and Impacts of the Biotech and Organic Seed Price Premium: US Organic Center report assessment

- PG Economics Limited, Dec. 4, 2009. See full report at http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/pdf/ocseedreportevaluationdec2009.pdf

Having recently evaluated an earlier Organic Center (OC) release, PG Economics provides a similar assessment of the findings of this latest OC release The Magnitude and Impacts of Biotech and Organic Seed Price Premium.

The OC release presents an interesting view of developments in the US seed markets for corn, soybeans and cotton and of impacts on, and changes in, the profitability of growing these crops. Its conclusions are highly dependent upon the assumptions used, and perceptions of the author, as to how seed markets work and farmers behave. We consider that the mainstream US market evidence does not support the OC report conclusions.


Biotechnology Based Sustainable Agriculture (International Conference)

- New Delhi, India - Saturday, December 19, 2009

International Life Sciences Institute India (ILSI-India) ILSI International Food Biotechnology Committee (IFBiC), Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, GOI Indian Council of Agricultural Research

Info at http://www.ilsi-india.org/activities-events/forthcoming-activities.htm#b