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February 1, 2010


Clinton Adviser Ruffles Feathers; Going Solar in Tobacco; Science Fleeing Europe; Biosafety Lab Folds; Trade and the Global Pipeline


* GM Fears May Harm Needy, Says Scientist
* Scientists Grow Solar Cell Components in Tobacco Plants
* "Frankenfoods" That Could Feed the World
* Pea Trials Flee to US
* GM Crop Biosafety Lab Folds
* International Trade and The Global Pipeline of New GM Crops
* India: Stick the Course on GM
* Bt Brinjal May Sneak Into India If Nod Denied
* Bt Brinjal Will Not Cause Any Harm to Biodiversity
* AgriBiotech in Developing Countries - Conference
* GM Food Safety Training Package
* Socio-Economic Impacts of Green Biotechnology
* Genetic Engineering Accepted (by Philippine bishops)
* Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty
* Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution

GM Fears May Harm Needy, Says Scientist

- Eloise Gibson, New Zealand Herald, Jan 28, 2010

Hillary Clinton's science adviser has ruffled the feathers of the anti-GM lobby, calling their arguments "tragically bad" and saying public fears risk blocking food from the needy when climate change hits. Nina Fedoroff, science adviser to the United States Secretary of State, says people will starve if climate change cuts water supplies and raises temperatures while people remain too afraid to use genetically modified crops.

Echoing dire warnings by climate scientists, she said water shortages and rising heat could cut crop yields in the order of 10 per cent per 1C of warming this century but said countries were being blocked from using modern science to fight it.

Globally the population was predicted to swell 2-3 billion by mid-century, while the driest and most populous places got drier, potentially creating a surge of political instability and environmental refugees, she said. "If there are more and more environmental refugees, they are going to end up on your doorstep too," she told a public gathering at Auckland University.

Her comments about the opposing lobby upset GE-free New Zealand head Claire Bleakley, who told Dr Fedoroff campaigners had pointed out genuine problems with trials here and overseas. Last year, New Zealand lobbyists overturned a 10-year vegetable genetic modification trial by a Government-owned company when they discovered plants that should have been destroyed had instead been left to flower, exposing their GM pollen to the environment.

Dr Fedoroff said in 30 years of laboratory tests and 15 years' commercial production "nobody had documented so much as a headache". "How many more decades of testing do you want?" she asked.

The US Government is among the biggest supporters of GM technology and many crops are owned by a US firm, Monsanto. Other high-profile scientists have also recently called for greater use of GM. Earlier this month, Gordon Brown's science adviser, John Beddington, called for Britain to embrace GM crops.

Dr Fedoroff, a molecular biologist here as part of a delegation of US scientists to build stronger ties with New Zealand, said she knew of New Zealand's strong anti-GM movement. "So I throw myself in front of the train," she joked.

She said if climate change unfolded as predicted, tweaking existing farming practices would not be enough. She predicted public attitudes would change when rising prices turned people towards cheaper, GM food. "Stay tuned --- dug-in positions can change quite rapidly," she said.


Scientists Grow Solar Cell Components in Tobacco Plants

- Lisa Zyga, Discovery News, January 29, 2010 http://www.physorg.com

Over billions of years, plants have evolved very efficient sunlight-collecting systems. Now, scientists are trying to harness the finely tuned systems in tobacco plants in order to use them as the building blocks of solar cells. Scientists predict that the technique could lead to the production of inexpensive, biodegradable solar cells.

In a recent study, scientists from UC Berkeley led by Matt Francis have demonstrated how to program tobacco plants to take advantage of the efficient way that they collect sunlight. Rather than attempt to reprogram all the cells of a mature tobacco plant, the scientists genetically engineered a virus called the tobacco mosaic virus to do the job for them. The researchers sprayed the modified virus on a crop of tobacco plants, and the virus caused the plant cells to produce lots of artificial chromophores, which turn photons from sunlight into electrons.
In order for the chromophores to work, however, they must be spaced at a precise distance from one another - about two or three nanometers. A little closer or further apart, and the electric current will either be halted or the electrons will be very difficult to harvest.

Thankfully, tobacco plant cells have evolved to space chromophores at this exact distance, lining them up in a long spiral hundreds of nanometers long. By exploiting this structure, the researchers could take advantage of billions of years of evolution to grow perfectly spaced strands of chromophores.

"Over billions of years, evolution has established exactly the right distances between chromophores to allow them to collect and use light from the sun with unparalleled efficiency," said Francis.

Since the modified tobacco plants themselves don’t generate electricity, the researchers must harvest the plants and extract the chromophore structures. Then, the scientists can dissolve the structures in a liquid solution, and then spray the solution on a glass or plastic substrate to create a solar cell. So far, the scientists have not yet demonstrated that the resulting solar cells can turn light into electrical energy.

Compared with traditional solar cells, those made from plants could have several potential advantages. For instance, they don’t require the use of toxic chemicals, they’re biodegradable, and they’re inexpensive to produce. On the other hand, bio-based solar cells would likely have a shorter lifetime than silicon solar cells.
In addition to using tobacco, the researchers also demonstrated how to manipulate E. coli bacteria to produce chromophore structures. In this case, the researchers didn’t use a virus, but modified the bacteria directly.

More information: Michel T. Dedeo, Karl E. Duderstadt, James M. Berger and Matthew B. Francis. “Nanoscale Protein Assemblies from a Circular Permutant of the Tobacco Mosaic Virus.” Nano Lett., 2010, 10 (1), pp 181-186. doi:10.1021/nl9032395


"Frankenfoods" That Could Feed the World

- Emily Waltz, Discover Magazine, Jan 2010 See the Gallery (with some splendid graphics at http://discovermagazine.com/photos/07-frankenfoods-that-could-feed-the-world

It's been almost 20 years since the first genetically modified (GM) crop was approved for commercialization, and still the range of biotech foods available to the public is paltry. Soybeans, corn and cotton that tolerate high doses of herbicides and fend off pests―technologies that benefit rich-world farmers―are nearly all the choices we have.

But scientists have the tools to engineer crops that can benefit far needier populations. Here is a sampling of a few of those crops in development. The trick is finding a profitable way to get these crops out of the lab and past convoluted regulations.


Pea Trials Flee to US

- Anna Meldolesi, Nature Biotechnology 28, 8 (2010)

Field trials of transgenic peas developed by a European university may relocate overseas to ensure a biotech-friendly environment. The University of Hannover in Germany is eyeing North Dakota as a safe place to evaluate several genetically modified (GM) pea lines intended as animal feed, under field conditions, marking the first time that EU-funded plant research has been forced to emigrate.

“Vandals are seen as heroes by some media. [Field trial] locations have to be disclosed precisely so that the eco-terrorists can program their GPS,” says Hans-Jörg Jacobsen, whose laboratory engineered the GM peas to express one or more antifungal genes. The relocation will be part of a scientific collaboration still under negotiation with the North Dakota State University (NDSU). Pollen flow is not a problem because peas are self-fertilizing plants, but in Germany, field testing could get into trouble anyway, and Jacobsen predicts there is an 80% chance the fields would be destroyed.

“We face a militant resistance, which is extremely difficult to handle by a scientist which usually has only a small budget and limited personnel,” sympathizes Jens Katzek from BIO Mitteldeutschland, a cluster promoting biotech. US trials are not expected to begin before 2011 for logistical reasons and will be performed ensuring “the highest level of containment and separation from commercial pea production channels,” says Kevin McPhee a plant geneticist at NDSU.


GM Crop Biosafety Lab Folds

- Lucas Laursen, Nature Biotechnology 28, 10 (2010)

A fully equipped laboratory for studying pathogen-resistant transgenic plants will close its doors by the year's end. The International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) Biosafety Outstation in Ca'Tron di Roncade, Treviso, Italy, was set up to study potential risks concerning genetically modified crops and plant pathogens of importance to the developing world. The outstation's facilities, part of the ICGEB, were refurbished with financing from Treviso-based Cassamarca Foundation, supported by banking group Unicredit.

But the bank's financial woes have prevented the foundation from renewing the euro4-million ($5.7 million), 5-year contract, says Mark Tepfer, leader of the outstation's Plant Virology group. Tepfer will transfer some his projects to his permanent appointment at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Paris. “I'm fairly optimistic that we'll find a way to continue,” he adds. The ICGEB operates under a treaty signed by 59 countries within the United Nations system to conduct research and education in biomedicine, crop improvement, environmental remediation and biopharmaceutical and biopesticide production throughout the developing world. ICGEB administrator Decio Ripandelli hopes to shift some of the outstation's research and education programs to the Trieste and New Delhi groups.

Ripandelli says he lobbied the Cassamarca Foundation to put the facilities, including a high-containment greenhouse, into a “pharmacological coma” to avoid restarting from scratch but the foundation is noncommittal. Ripandelli says, “It's really a pity and a scandal if the facilities are not used.”


Roger Beachy

- Emily Waltz, Nature Biotechnology, Jan 2010


Plant scientist Roger Beachy has joined the Obama administration to lead the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the new research funding arm of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Beachy, whose research led to the first transgenic crop, was previously the long-time head of the not-for-profit Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. Emily Waltz talks to Beachy about his plans for the new agency.

Did you have any idea you were on President Obama's short list for this job?
I had no idea. Rajiv Shah, who had just been appointed USDA's chief scientist, attended a meeting in St. Louis and during his visit he quizzed me about what I thought NIFA should be like. A month later he called and asked if I would consider taking the job as director.

Do you think you were hired because the current administration wants to push the agbiotech agenda?
Not at all. They wanted a scientist who has a reputation for having accomplished both fundamental and applied science and has a grasp on the importance of international programs. The best science I have done in my career has not been biotech; it has been what I have taught about virus structure and pathology and how viruses move between cells.

What are society's most urgent agricultural challenges, as NIFA sees them?
Sustainable food production and nutrition, readiness for climate aberrations that will impact productivity and developing renewable options like biofuels and industrial and pharmaceutical materials. To address these challenges, we will create sub-institutional structures within NIFA. One of the institutes would address biofuels, climate and environment; another would address food safety and nutrition; a third would address food production and sustainability; and a fourth institute would focus on youth, families and communities.

What opportunities does your new position offer that your previous job didn't?
I'm a scientist and I'd like to see agricultural science benefit humankind. This job gives me a far greater opportunity to do that than my previous roles. We need a new generation of scientists who understand the importance of the environment, of sustainability, food production, biofuels and climate, and I'm not sure that has been as much of a focus at the USDA as it should have been.

How will NIFA differ from its predecessor, the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES)?
With NIFA there will be a greater focus [than under CSREES] on competitive grants, and greater linkage between fundamental and applied research with extension and education. We want to ensure that the knowledge we gain from research reaches farmers and consumers; from the lab to the field to the fork. Our agency will be unique in that regard. The NIH [National Institutes of Health] doesn't have the same capability of going from the lab to the bedside.Without additional support, there will likely be few genetically enhanced crops developed by public sector researchers in the marketplace in the near future.

How will you accomplish these linkages?
We will request that a significantly greater percentage of the research grants that NIFA awards include a component for extension or education. In the past, about 25–30% of our grants included these components. We'd like to double that.

Do you think that the financial support from Monsanto at the Donald Danforth Plant ScienceCenter will affect how you form relationships with industry at NIFA?
No. As president of the Danforth Center I encouraged relationships with private companies, including Monsanto. But it should be understood that those relationships did not result in significant influences over the mission of the Center. It's unfortunate that some people think that that relationship has tainted me in some way, although I guess it's not unexpected.

Will more money find its way into research grants or will we simply see a reshuffling of funding priorities?
We had a budget increase for a competitive grants program, called Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), this year from $201 million to $262.5 million, which suggests that the Obama administration is keen to invest more heavily in agriculture research. And the farm bill states that we are eligible for up to $700 million in AFRI funds [2008–2012 period]. That's a good start, but we need more than a billion dollars per year to meet the major societal challenges that involve agriculture.

Why do we see such an emphasis on transgenic strains of major crops rather than other crops that would benefit small-scale farmers and consumers?
There is relatively little profit in minor crops like blueberries and sweet potatoes compared with the large commodity crops. So the major seed companies aren't very interested in developing them; that is left to the public sector and small seed companies. And while public sector science is putting a lot of effort into researching these smaller crops, the cost of navigating the regulatory process is so high that it essentially eliminates public sector participation in commercialization. Noncommercial researchers also lack the expertise and infrastructure to provide regulatory authorities with the necessary documentation for regulatory approval. Without additional support, there will likely be few genetically enhanced crops developed by public sector researchers in the marketplace in the near future.

Are you going to attempt to change the regulatory process so that these minor crops can make it to the market?
In the early days of agbiotech, regulations were fairly minimal, which kept development costs low. The safety of a product was judged on the product itself and not the method used to develop it. Regulatory agencies have lost some of that focus in the past ten years. Now crops made with genetic intervention are viewed through a different lens than those made by classical breeding. I am very interested in having a regulatory structure that is science based and gets back to what we originally had. I think it's important that we stop talking only about risks and talk more about risk-benefit analyses.

How will you go about making these regulatory changes?
I've been on the job for four weeks, so I don't have an answer yet. But it is an interest of mine. NIFA is not a regulatory agency and is not part of the regulatory process, and to put a lot of immediate effort into changing the regulatory structure before we have a sense of how much need there is for change would not be prudent.

Can NIFA hope to achieve an impact beyond the US?
In the past, the USDA supported a larger number of foreign students and other trainees who would attend our agricultural universities and then return to their home countries to implement their knowledge. The resources for such programs have shrunk in recent years. In the next few months, we will create a Center for International Programs, reporting to me, that will seek to rebuild international partnerships based on local agriculture, rather than imported goods.

Some scientists have criticized the USDA for becoming conservative in the kinds of crop research it supports. Do you think this is true?
I agree there has been a narrow focus and it's partly because Congress has gotten involved in telling the USDA what to fund. That hasn't made it easy to be more exploratory in research. During my tenure we expect to award larger grants that are longer in term. We hope this will engage a broader range of scientists and engineers who haven't traditionally come to USDA for funding. For example, we would bring together biomedical researchers, plant biologists and extension agents to work on increasing the nutritional value of food.

What will it take to get grant managers at the USDA to think differently and direct funding toward a broad range of scientists?
When I arrived, I was impressed by the willingness of the management team to consider doing things in a different way. They are ready for change. But we may also bring in a few people as advisors or staff to help stimulate the change.

What are your ideas on how to provide accurate, science-based information that the public will actually read?
Communication of any type of science in lay language is terribly important. The USDA has not always kept good track of the impact of its research. Instead, we leave it to the universities to publicize discoveries. We need to find more proactive ways to let people know that we are part of those discoveries.

Will NIFA fund research that examines the potential risks of biotech crops?
We've had more than 15 years of successful deployment of biotech crops. That history alone tells us a lot about how safe transgenes are under current regulatory guidelines. I think it's important that we stop talking only about risks and talk more about risk-benefit analyses.

So if a scientist applies for a grant to study only the risks of a crop, is that person out of luck?

If there is a legitimate concern about the safety of a product, absolutely there is an opportunity for support from NIFA.


International Trade and The Global Pipeline of New GM Crops

- Alexander J Stein & Emilio Rodríguez-Cerezo, Nature Biotechnology 28, 23 - 25 (2010)

In a previous issue, Paul Christou and colleagues highlighted the patchwork of laws and regulations governing tolerance levels for approved genetically modified (GM) material in non-GM food and in the labeling and traceability of GM products. A related but different problem is that of 'asynchronous approval' of new GM crops across international jurisdictions, which is of growing concern due to its potential impact on global trade. Different countries have different authorization procedures and, even if regulatory dossiers are submitted at the same time, approval is not given simultaneously (in some cases, delays can even amount to years).

For instance, by mid-2009 over 40 transgenic events were approved or close to approval elsewhere but not yet approved—or not even submitted—in the European Union (EU; Brussels). Yet, like some other jurisdictions, the EU also operates a 'zero-tolerance' policy to even the smallest traces of nationally unapproved GM crops (so-called low-level presence). The resultant rejection of agricultural imports has already caused high economic losses and threatens to disrupt global agri-food supply chains .

To assess the likelihood of future incidents of low-level presence of unapproved GM material in crop shipments and to understand related impacts on global trade and the EU's agri-food sector, we compiled a global pipeline of new GM crops. Our motivation was to obtain a realistic estimate of how many new GM crops will be commercialized in the next years, by whom and in which countries—and when these new crops will be authorized by the different trading partners of the EU.

In this context, we invited a select panel of national regulators, industry representatives, experts from national and international research institutes and actors from the global food and feed supply chain to a workshop organized at the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre in November 2008 to discuss for the first time the issue of low-level presence in view of a growing global pipeline of new GM crops. (For more details, see Supplementary Notes.)

On the basis of this workshop and subsequent desk research, we predict that by 2015 there could be over 120 different transgenic events in commercialized GM crops worldwide—compared with around 30 GM events in commercially cultivated GM crops in 2008 (Fig. 1)9. Although the currently common traits in GM crops (insect resistance and herbicide tolerance) will continue to be the most common traits in 2015, optimized crop composition is expected to gain increasing importance (Table 1). Moreover, we expect that about half the new transgenic events that could be brought to market until 2015 will have been developed by players in Asia (33 in India, 20 in China, 5 in the rest of Asia) and Latin America, with the other half coming from companies in the United States and the EU. (For more details, see Supplementary Data.)

Although the commercialization of the crops shown may be technically possible by 2015, the practical—or rather regulatory—feasibility may be more questionable (e.g., for rice in particular), given that in some of the developer countries no GM (food) crops have been authorized so far.

Apart from the implication that a quadrupling of the number of transgenic events in commercialized GM crops between 2008 and 2015 is likely to increase the negative impact of low-level presence on international trade (if no fundamental change takes place in the way new GM crops are currently approved in different countries), our study also indicates that new transgenic events are likely to be introduced and that new crops will be targeted. Even so, the current crops dominating the GM landscape (soybeans, maize, cotton and canola) will continue to dominate the picture in 2015 (Fig. 1). Likewise, the long-anticipated product quality traits are likely to come forth only slowly: of a total of 91 new GM crops that are expected to be commercialized between 2009 and 2015, only 18 represent quality innovations (Table 1). This conclusion is supported by a survey reported in the August issue, where Graff et al.10 sought to answer the question of why quality-improving innovations from agbiotech have not been more readily forthcoming, and through a survey carried out in 2004 they identified 49 quality innovations, which they expected to be commercialized by 2015 (21 of those between 2010 and 2015).

More importantly, though, what our present study indicates is that an increasing number of GM crops are being developed by new players outside the United States or Europe (in particular, by actors in Asia). These new players develop the crops for their population-rich home markets and may therefore be less affected by the marketability of the crops abroad. Just in November, for example, China took a major step towards endorsing the use of a major staple crop, GM rice.

However, as has been seen in the recent cases where traces of GM maize in soybeans led to the rejection of the soybean shipments , under certain regulatory settings (in particular zero tolerance towards low-level presence) the cultivation of one type of crop may even affect the marketability of other types of crops. This means that if third countries want to authorize GM varieties of crops that are welfare-enhancing for their societies, in future they may also consider the potential impact of 'cross low-level presence' in different, but export-relevant, crops.

The extent to which this situation shapes the approval and development of future agbiotech innovations remains to be seen. Unfortunately, past experience with the use of GM crops shows that irrational fear of export losses represents a significant impediment to biosafety policymaking.
References and Tables at http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v28/n1/full/nbt0110-23b.html or request reprint from author Alexander J Stein - contact@ajstein.de ( European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC), Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Seville, Spain )


India: Stick the Course on GM

- Editorial, The Financial Express (India), Feb 2, 2010 http://www.financialexpress.com/

: At the first annual conference of chief secretaries yesterday, the PM said that the sense of comfort over India’s food security is somewhat misplaced. The way forward lies in increasing farm productivity, as India’s agricultural productivity still ranks far below the best in the world. This is well known, as are the constraints on expanding land usage for food production. Genetic modification offers a basic solution for increasing productivity.

Our columnists have pointed out that overall estimates for all major crops indicate that most of the increase in South Asian production (where India is a major player) would have to come from more yield improvement (87%) and higher cropping intensities (8%). Clearly, the anti-GM lobby that rails against industrial, large-scale systems of food production and advocates small, Rousseauesque farms as an alternative cannot really fulfil this grand mission. Yet, this lobby’s pseudoscience, alarmism and overstatement continue to hold the fort.

The latest manifestation of this is the battle over Bt brinjal, which has already passed through extensive evaluations involving about 200 scientists and experts from over 15 public and private sector institutions. India’s biotechnology regulator, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), has approved its commercialisation.

Still, the environment and forests minister now claims that he is personally entitled to take his time arriving at a decision on what to do with the GEAC recommendations.

Why did we put up with years of agronomic and biosecurity testing by the GEAC if these tests were going to be questioned by government folks themselves?

Surely, Jairam Ramesh is not suggesting that the elaborate, rigorous and science-based regulatory approval process be restarted.

At a time when food inflation should be pushing the government to expedite food security solutions, it can’t simply start over trials and experiments without explaining what was wrong with the previous ones. That will show that the Bt cotton lesson still hasn’t been learnt.

Not only has Bt cotton proved a huge success in terms of offering yields that are many multiples of traditional ones, but let’s remember what happened when the government took too much time making up its mind about Bt cotton—plain and simple piracy. This is likely to happen with Bt brinjal too as the buzz has been that it could add to the current annual production by 50-70%—that’s how much crop is destroyed by pests that the variety under discussion is supposed to protect against.

Finally, the seeds are being manufactured by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company in collaboration with Monsanto. That further compromises the usual guff about GM being a multinational conspiracy.


Bt Brinjal May Sneak Into India If Nod Denied

- Economic Times Jan 28, 2010 http://epaper.timesofindia.com

INDIAN agri-biotechnologists have warned that transgenic or genetically-modified brinjal could enter the Indian market illegally if the Union government refuses permission or delays commercialisation of the transgenic varieties of this key horticulture crop. Last October, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved the commercialisation of transgenic brinjal in the country subject to the final nod from the Union Environment & Forest Ministry. The ministry has currently organised a series of public hearing campaigns to elicit views from various stake-holders on commercialising transgenic brinjal.

“We have several instances of how transgenic crops under field trials or being tested in labs have found their way to farmer fields even before they are formally approved and commercialised. The Indian authorities should permit commercialisation of transgenic brinjal before this (brinjal) makes illegal entry into our farms and markets,” said Dr Shanthu Shantharam, a former transgenic crop regulator who had earlier served as branch head of Biotechnology Regulatory Services of the US Dept of Agriculture(USDA). There is some precedent to this. There have been instances of farmers growing transgenic cotton much before it was legally permitted. And experts say that illegal cultivation in India is quite common in case of hybrid varieties.

Globally too, there have been several instances of illegal cultivation of transgenic crops. Brazil was forced to permit the transgenic variety of soyabean once farmers began illegally cultivating it. Illegal cultivation of the crop continued in that country despite a court ruling banning such an activity. More recently, transgenic papaya which has been only approved in the US (in Hawaii) has already found its way to farms in Vietnam and Philippines, two countries which have not yet approved of this variety. “Transgenic varieties help to reduce the usage of pesticides something which would be of immense use for the small farmer in the country. Estimates indicate that brinjal farmers spend as much as Rs 6,000 per acre on pesticides, a figure which can drop by 40% to 50% if we permit transgenic brinjal. Field trials of transgenic brinjal have already indicated the crop’s bio-safety,” said Dr TM Manjunath, a leading agri-biotechnologist and the former head of Monsanto’s research centre in Bangalore.
According to Dr Kameswara Rao, founder of the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness & Education (FBAE) the acreage under transgenic crops worldwide has risen from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 125 million hectares in 2008. While three Indian agenices have already developed transgenic brinjal varieties, field trials on brinjal or egg-plant are underway in Bangladesh and Philippines.


'Bt Brinjal Will Not Cause Any Harm to Biodiversity'

- Vaishalli Chandra, DNA, January 28, 2010 http://www.dnaindia.com

Brinjal, the humble vegetable, is now a subject of intense debate, as the country tries to figure out the benefits and harmful effects of its genetically modified (GM) variant. In Karnataka and many other states, organisations representing farmers are opposed to the cultivation of Bt brinjal.

But Shanthu Shantharam, a molecular biologist and biotechnologist, feels that Bt brinjal should be embraced.
He spoke to the media in Bangalore about biosafety in view of genetic modification, and about the environmental and economic impacts of Bt brinjal. Shantharam, who has served as the chief of the Washington DC branch of the USDA’s Biotechnology Regulatory Services for over 14 years, later told Vaishalli Chandra that Bt brinjal does not need human trials and that it will add to the genetic diversity.

Why do we need Bt brinjal?
We need it to bring down the cost of cultivation. Sixty to 70% of planted brinjal is lost to pests during cultivation. Farmers use insecticides and sprays that are harmful to the soil as well as to the labourers working on farms.
Brinjal has no natural resistance to the stem borer (pest). Hence, there is a need to have a variant that is resistant to the pest. The alternative technology, other than conventional breeding, that helps achieve this is Bt. Through this technology, cost and pollution can be reduced and the produce will be bountiful. Moreover, the technology is ready to deliver the product now.

There are 2,500 varieties of brinjal. If Bt brinjal were to be introduced, will it not affect biodiversity?
The premise that that the introduction of Bt brinjal will destroy biodiversity is a scientific falsehood. There are no more than 200 varieties of brinjals. These NGOs (those against Bt brinjal) have a political definition of biodiversity, which has no scientific basis. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research in Delhi, which is the world’s second-largest gene plasma bank, has only 200 varieties. The idea that Bt brinjal will destroy biodiversity is nonsensical. In fact, since brinjal has no natural resistance (to pests), the introduction of Bt brinjal will help increase genetic diversity.

Isn’t there a threat to other varieties through cross-pollination?
The apprehension that gene transfer will result in contamination is a fallacy. Gene transfer is not an easy phenomenon. It has to be fixed in population through selection pressure. Also, there is no horizontal transfer of the gene — it will not transfer to animals; there is only vertical transfer — from one generation to the next within the same species.

You talk about growing Bt brinjal organically. Is it really possible?
Of course. Before the introduction of GM (genetically modified) crops, there were two types of agriculture — organic and chemical. An organic product is grown without the use of any chemicals. That can be done with a Bt seed as well. The concern of the organic industry is market share. Even after over 60 years of organic cultivation, the products have less than 3% of the market share across the world. They (those involved in organic cultivation) are frustrated. With the introduction of GM crops, the share will drop further.

When a new technology is introduced, it hurts the business interest of the organic food industry. In fact, the UK Royal Society and other nutrition assessment agencies have proved that organic produce is no more healthier than a normal produce. I have nothing against organic farming – it provides a feel-good factor. But those supporting organic foods should not say that genetically modified crops are bad.


AgriBiotech in Developing Countries - Conference

The FAO international technical conference on Agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries: Options and opportunities in crops, forestry, livestock, fisheries and agro-industry to face the challenges of food insecurity and climate change (ABDC-10) will be held in Guadalajara on March 1-4, 2010. Host of the conference will be the Government of Mexico and co-sponsored by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

For further information email ABDC@fao.org or visit http://www.fao.org/biotech/abdc/en/


GM Food Safety Training Package

- FAO Biotech News, http://www.fao.org/biotech

FAO's Food Quality and Standards Service has recently published "GM food safety assessment: Tools for trainers". The training package is composed of three parts. The first, 'Principles of safety assessment of foods derived from recombinant-DNA plants', provides guidance for the implementation of an effective framework for safety assessment of foods derived from recombinant-DNA plants.

The second, 'Tools and techniques for trainers', offers a practical guide for preparing and delivering a workshop on the topic of safety assessment of foods derived from recombinant-DNA plants. The third, 'Case studies', presents three safety assessment dossiers that have been summarized for training purposes. The target audience includes national food safety regulators, authorities, and/or scientists tasked with training others to undertake the safety assessment of foods derived from recombinant-DNA plants.

See http://www.fao.org/docrep/012/i0110e/i0110e00.htm (in English, French and Spanish) or contact Masami.Takeuchi@fao.org for more information.

Socio-Economic Impacts of Green Biotechnology

- EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, has released a document on Socio-Economic Impacts of Green Biotechnology. It discusses the status of green biotechnology, socio-economic impacts at the global and European levels, and ecological impacts of biotech crops.

The report can be downloaded at http://www.europabio.org/positions/GBE/PP_080110-Socio-economic-impacts-of-GM-Crops-GMO.pdf


Genetic Engineering Accepted (by Philippine bishops)

- National Catholic Reporter, Nov. 27, 2009

Manila, Philippines - The Philippine bishops came gradually to accept genetically modified genetically modified organisms as they studied whether to support the development of new strains of rice to solve a rice shortage in Asia, the head of the bishops' bioethics bioethics, in philosophy, a branch of ethics concerned with issues surrounding health care and the biological sciences. These issues include the morality of abortion, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, and organ transplants (see transplantation, medical). office said.

The church will back the introduction of new rice strains if these will help feed over l billion malnourished Asians and Africans and do not harm the environment, said Dominican Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi of Caceres.

The Philippines bishops' conference initially resisted acceptance of genetically modified organisms when the technology was "not yet so well defined," Legaspi said. Opposition moved through "a gradual evolution" toward acceptance as it became apparent that genetically modified organisms offer food safety and security as well as environmental sustainability.

The bishop's comments come as more than 700 scientists and agriculturalists discussed new rice strains at the Sixth International Rice Genetics Symposium in Manila Nov. 16-19.

The highly influential International Rice Research Institute, based in Laguna, Philippines, which for 50 years has used traditional plant breeding techniques to develop pest and disease resistance and increase crop yields, announced at the symposium that it would begin using genetic engineering.


Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty

- New Book By Roger Thurow & Scott Kilman, One World Books, 2009, $27.95, 416 pages, ISBN13: 9781586485115 http://astore.amazon.com/oneworld.net03-20/detail/1586485113

For more than thirty years, humankind has known how to grow enough food to end chronic hunger worldwide. Yet while the “Green Revolution” succeeded in South America and Asia, it never got to Africa. More than 9 million people every year die of hunger, malnutrition, and related diseases every year—most of them in Africa and most of them children. More die of hunger in Africa than from AIDS and malaria combined. Now, an impending global food crisis threatens to make things worse.

In the west we think of famine as a natural disaster, brought about by drought; or as the legacy of brutal dictators. But in this powerful investigative narrative, Thurow & Kilman show exactly how, in the past few decades, American, British, and European policies conspired to keep Africa hungry and unable to feed itself. As a new generation of activists work to keep famine from spreading, Enough is essential reading on a humanitarian issue of utmost urgency.

"How in a world of plenty can people be left to starve? We think, 'It's just the way of the world.' But if it is the way of the world, we must overthrow the way of the world. Enough is enough!" --Bono"


Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution, Lessons for the Computer Age

-Joel Mokyr, Reason, January 1, 1996, via The Free Library.