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February 5, 2010


Asinine Biosafety Law; Cold Hardy Trees; How EU Does It; Bill Gates at Davos - Rethinking How to Feed the World; Indian Circus


* Scientists, Donors Blast Ethiopia's Bio Safety Law
* Biotech Eucalyptus Doesn’t Mind the Cold
* How EU Member States Approach GMOs
* Prof. Jonny Gressel Wins Israel Prize for Agriculture
* Irishman Scotches Ban on GM Crops
* Bill Gates at Davos: Rethinking How to Feed the World
* DuPont CEO: Agriculture is Key to Global Economic Growth, Sustainability and Security
* Bill Gates Says Innovation Can Leverage Change
* Global Challenges in Ag Productivity - Live Webinar on Feb 12
* Take It To The Farmers
* The Challenge of Improving Nutrition: Facts and Figures
* What Percentage of American Farms is Organic?
* Is Bt Brinjal Safe?
* India: Monsanto Defends Bt Crops
* Jairam Ramesh Evasive on Bt Brinjal
* Sharad Pawar Bats for Bt Brinjal, Raps Its Opponents


Scientists, Donors Blast Ethiopia's Bio Safety Law

- Peter Heinlein, Voice of America, Feb. 4, 2010 http://www.voanews.com

Scientists and farmers are urging Ethiopia to reconsider a new biodiversity law they say restricts agricultural research and could hamper delivery of urgently needed food aid. The law has prompted foreign donors to cut off funding to Ethiopian scientific research institutions.

Ethiopia's government held a two day forum this week to hear objections to a Biodiversity Proclamation approved by parliament last July, on the final day before summer recess. The law's stated objective is to protect biodiversity, as well as human health and animals, from 'the adverse effects of modified organisms'.

But critics say the proclamation chokes off research into improving crop production in a country suffering chronic food shortages. Tilaye Feyisa, assistant professor of plant biotechnology at Addis Ababa University says anyone involved in studying genetic engineering is subject to strict government regulation.

"It is really excellent proclamation to prevent the research in the areas of plant genetic engineering," said Tilaye Feyisa. "It stops, because if you break this proclamation, even unintentionally, you can be put in prison for one to three years."

Tilaye says funding for research on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, has dried up since the law went into effect. "The money we get is from outside sources," said Tilaye. "We write proposals, when the country is against GMOs, having this proclamation, we don't get any money for research from foreign donors. It is killing the scientific research."

Tilahun Zewelde is a former plant scientist at the Ethiopian Research Organization. He now work at Uganda's Agriculture Biotechnology Support Program. Speaking at this week's meeting, he charged Ethiopia's law was written by environmental extremists and adopted without review by a parliament that had no idea of its consequences.

"We can't even teach students life science and biotechnology," said Tilahun Zewelde. "And the main reason it was drafted by very biased people. Biased in the sense biotechnology is bad, genetic engineering is bad and multinationals are going to take over everything, control the seed business. And the actual technology users were not involved in drafting process. So it's one sided, not good for country."

Biotechnology experts from other African nations came to the forum to express concerns about the Biosafety Proclamation. Togolese scientist Jacob Mignouna is Technical Director of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation. He says the law rejects conclusive evidence about the safety of genetically modified organisms in common use.

"There's no need to reinvent the wheel," said Jacob Mignouna. "The world has moved on. This technology has been proven. This is the message our colleagues from Ethiopia should understand and look carefully and see how we can move forward to embrace new technology at the same time protecting biodiversity in this great country."

But Minister of State for Agricultural Development Abera Deresa says Ethiopia is not convinced by available evidence that GMOs are safe. The Agriculture Ministry was a main sponsor of the forum, but Abera says the government has a duty to protect the public until the scientific community does more to prove GMOs pose no threat to health or to Ethiopia's biodiversity.

"Among scientists there is a division," said Abera Deresa. "A certain number of scientists who are not for GMO, a certain number of scientists who are for GMO. So we have to assess why this is happening." Abera says the government is reviewing the Biosafety Proclamation, and may ask parliament to make changes.

Meanwhile, aid donors say the law could restrict shipments of food intended for more than five million Ethiopians facing malnutrition. The United States provides nearly 80 per cent of Ethiopia's food assistance. Among the U.S. supplies currently on the way is roughly 30,000 metric tons of corn-soy blend and vegetable oil, which are typically produced from bioengineered corn and soy. The Ethiopian government has issued a waiver to allow the products to come in to the country, but the waiver is due to expire at the end of February.

Biotech Eucalyptus Doesn’t Mind the Cold

- GMO Compass, Feb. 5, 2010 http://www.gmo-compass.org

Scientists have succeeded in producing a variety of genetically modified eucalyptus suited to withstand cooler temperatures. This opens the possibility of more widespread planting of these trees and of better economy in their industrial use.

Native to Australia, eucalyptus trees occupy in the meanwhile about twenty million hectares worldwide in plantations. They may shoot to a height of 25 metres after three-and-a-half years and their fine-fibred wood is a desirable raw material for papermaking. Eucalyptus also is used as an energy source.

Since eucalyptus trees are very vulnerable to frost, their cultivation in the cooler parts of the world to date has been impossible. Paper manufacturers in the northern zones are forced to accept either long transport routes or other types of raw material.

"Green biotechnology" may facilitate eucalyptus as an efficient and renewable raw material even in regions with cool winters. Scientists at the ArborGen firm have transferred a gene from a cold-tolerant plant that makes eucalyptus less sensitive to frost. In field trials, the trees withstood temperatures as low as –6°C without collapse. This would allow, for example, cultivation in the USA to expand from the southernmost tip of Florida to the entire south coast.

Currently, ArborGen is planning release trials with a total of more than 100,000 of the genetically modified eucalyptus trees at 29 locations in the USA. Their agro-industrial properties will be scrutinised more closely and, additionally, research is taking place towards trees with faster growth and improved wood constitution. Goal of the firm is more wood from a smaller area. Increased production of renewable raw materials without taking up more land space may save resources and promotes sustainability.


How EU Member States Approach GMOs

- Reuters, Feb 4, 2010

Plans to give national governments the right to decide whether to grow new genetically modified crops could unblock a paralysis in EU approvals, but risk igniting internal-market disputes within the bloc.

Proposals from the Dutch and Austrian governments, under consideration by the European Union's executive arm, have won the backing of several countries and interested parties, and will be at the top of the new European Commission's agenda.

Following are some facts on the approaches of key EU member states towards genetically modified organisms (GMOs):
* The Dutch agriculture ministry says GMOs can play a part in making agriculture more sustainable and ensuring food security. It believes the EU has to find a better way of approaching GMOs because of their widespread use and cultivation in many other parts of the world.

* The Netherlands wants the EU to modify the way it deals with GMO approvals. It is proposing a system whereby individual governments would have the final say on whether something may be grown in their country.

* GMOs are grown only in controlled research experiments in the Netherlands and not for commercial cultivation at present, a ministry spokesman said.

* Austria has had long-standing objections to GMOs and the public and farmers do not, in general, support GM cultivation. All Austrian provinces have joined the alliance of GMO-free regions in Europe. The country has a large number of small farms, many of them managed organically.
* In June 2009, the Austrian government submitted a note supported by 12 other member states to EU environment ministers that in effect backed the Dutch proposals.

* The British government believes there is no scientific case for a blanket ban on the cultivation of GM crops in the UK, but that proposed uses need to be assessed for safety on a case-by-case basis.
* Various types of GM crop have been grown for research and development at a number of field sites in England since 1993 but there has been no commercial cultivation of GM crops.
* Britain believes the EU approval process takes too long and welcomes the Dutch initiative which aims to speed it up, though noting that details of the proposal still need to be worked out.

SPAIN * Spain has since 1998 been growing maize genetically modified to resist corn borers. Farmers sowed 76,000 hectares of it in 2009, or about 22 percent of all maize. They are expected to sow a similar amount this year. All GMO maize harvested is used to make animal feed.
* GMO strains of sugar beet are undergoing tests but have yet to be authorised for commercial planting.
* Spanish farmers are divided over GMOs. Some protest that current laws fail to prevent contamination of GMO-free areas, while others complain red tape prevents them from planting new crop varieties and competing with non-European farmers.

* Italy, where a majority of the population does not believe GMO crops are healthy, has set a de-facto moratorium on cultivation of GM crops because the rules on co-existence of traditional and GM crops are yet to be defined, and it resists GMO imports.

* Italy's highest appeals court ordered the agriculture ministry in January to allow a farm to grow genetically modified maize, even in the absence of co-existence rules. The ruling, to be implemented in 90 days, sets a precedent for GMO crop cultivation in Italy. [ID:nLDE60S29U]

* The ministry says it has taken a "prudent" approach to the Dutch proposal, especially with regards to trade and possible weakening of the EU authorisations if they are limited to toxicological and environmental aspects.

* The French government halted in 2008 commercial planting of Monsanto's (MON.N) Mon 810 maize, citing concerns over environmental effects.
* France's cautious line on GM crops reflects their unpopularity in public opinion and the impact of GM opponents, who have regularly sabotaged field tests of GM plants.
* France criticised as insufficient a favourable opinion last June from the European Food Safety Authority on renewing the EU's licence for Mon 810 maize.

* The new German coalition government is cautiously favourable on GMOs and has said it would support the Dutch plan.
* Germany banned the commercial production of Mon 810 GMO maize in April last year. The government has said the ban would remain until the completion of legal action against it.


Prof. John Gressel Wins Israel Prize for Agriculture

- Arutz Sheva, IsraelNN.com Feb. 3, 2010 http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/Flash.aspx/179890

Minister of Education, Gideon Saar, announced Wednesday the winner of the Israel Prize in Agricultural Research – Prof. Jonathan Gressel.

The Prize Committee noted that Prof. Jonathan Gressel of the Department of Plant Sciences of the Weizmann Institute, is an internationally renowned expert on biotechnology of plants. He has carried out breakthrough studies in the molecular mechanisms that allow the extermination of weeds in agriculture that have been applied both in Israel and abroad.


Irishman Scotches Ban on GM Crops

- Andrew Arbuckle, Scotsman (UK), Feb. 5, 2010 http://business.scotsman.com/

An Irish businessman claims he can grow malting-quality barley in Argentina and get it to port for £50 a tonne and still make a profit – not a message that Scottish growers want to hear.

Jim McCarthy's speech at a conference in Carnoustie, Angus, set the audience of mainly arable farmers back on its heels. He also hit out at European governments for ruling out GM technology.

McCarthy has interests in land worldwide, and one of these businesses, Agro Terra, owns about 11,000 hectares of top-quality land in the South American country. Currently, it is growing maize and soya, but he produced figures showing costs that would work out at about £35 per tonne, leaving £15 per tonne for profit and haulage to the nearest port.

He gave one example of how he was able to keep his costs low. For sowing his grain, he uses an 8m-wide drill and two tractormen each do an eight-hour shift, sleeping in a caravan next to the field. They do this seven days a week until the work is complete. He admitted afterwards that the prospect of South American grain going into Scotch whisky might be a shock to those who live in this country.

But he stuck to his guns, saying that Scotch was an international drink and "the man in Shanghai" may like Scottish whisky, but he would not be too concerned about where the grain making the drink came from. "The point I want to make is that food and drink are international commodities and that suppliers with low costs of production are better placed to remain in business."

His crops in Argentina, mainly soya and maize, are all genetically modified and he declared himself an enthusiastic supporter of this new science. He was also heavily critical of the attitude of governments in this country and in Europe for turning their backs on GM technology, saying he believed that European farmers were now being placed at a disadvantage in world markets because of this stance.

Although he farms land in Latvia and other Baltic states, he said he was unlikely to increase his interests in Europe, as he feared becoming "Europeanised", which he later explained was tied into too many regulations.

In South America, his pesticide costs are now very low, with GM varieties controlling most of the pests that attacked conventionally bred cultivars.

NFU Scotland president Jim McLaren, who was in the audience for McCarthy's speech, admitted that "my mailbox is filled everyday with people who are anti-GM", and he wanted to know how consumers could be assured of the safety of new GM varieties?

McCarthy was in no doubt that the testing regime for these was strict and that there was no problem for those eating the produce from the 500 million acres of GM crops grown last year.

During his talk, McCarthy referred to the increasing population of the world and the responsibility that would fall on farmers to feed the extra mouths. It was not just a case of more people looking for food; he also predicted increased demand for a wider range of food as societies developed. Another angle on the GM debate emerged at the conference when plant scientist Dr Mark Taylor, from the Scottish Crop Research Institute at Invergowrie, revealed that a GM potato cultivar created at SCRI would be field-tested in Israel, because it was not allowed in the UK.

Bill Gates at Davos: Rethinking How to Feed the World

- World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland


'Global food demand will double between now and 2050 as the world’s population reaches 9.2 billion.'

Listen to Podcast at http://a9.g.akamai.net/f/9/6890/6h/weforum.download.akamai.com/6890/VOD/davos10/0129/29973_EN_v064_00.mp3

Watch videocast at http://a9.g.akamai.net/f/9/6890/6h/weforum.download.akamai.com/6890/VOD/davos10/0129/29973_EN_v300_416x230_00.mp4

How can the increased demand for food be met in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner?

Proposed Goals:
• Ensure there is no hungry or malnourished child by 2020
• Double food production in Africa over the next 10 years
• Double the income of small farmers so they can feed themselves and make money
• View Africa as the continent to feed the world; the average African farmer feeds two people, the European 130 – better technology and financial resources can change this
• Double agricultural investment throughout the world; post-harvest waste should be halved
• Eliminate trade barriers and subsidies to improve worldwide food production

One billion people suffer from malnutrition throughout the world. This is the single-most important – and neglected – issue on the global agenda. Feeding the planet’s population is a huge challenge. Today there are 6.2 billion people; by 2050 the number is expected to rise to 9.2 billion. Nevertheless, there is no reason why this challenge cannot be overcome. Sufficient land, water, technology and skills are available. What needs to happen, however, is to overcome the constraints.

The issue is not just that the world’s population will grow by 50% over the next 40 years. The need for agricultural products will double. Agricultural investment and innovation will need to increase in the short term. But technology alone is not enough; farmers require more education and collaboration. There are other challenges, too, such as climate change or the wasted use of available food resources for the production of biofuel. There also has been a shift in the type of food wanted with populations moving increasingly to urban areas.

Africa has not yet had a green revolution. It is critical to invest in approaches that go beyond. This means working with traditional methods, but also finding the most appropriate scientific expertise for responding to these problems. Transgenic solutions, such as wheat or rice with resistant genes, may prove more effective, but countries themselves need to decide which genes are safe. A lot of data and information is available on the benefits of genetically-modified seeds. These can help bridge the gap.

Food security is not just an economic or humanitarian issue. It also affects social and political stability. However, to ensure food security, both productivity and distribution need to be improved. This means making better use of science and new technologies. For some countries, genetically modified crops are not necessarily required if self-sufficient. Improving food productivity is important, but so is ensuring that crops reach their markets. An enormous amount of post-harvest waste can be remedied through better management and storage.

Other forms of intervention can make significant differences, such as improved mechanization. In Africa, only 10% of agriculture is done by tractor. Irrigation, too, needs to be increased. Four percent of the land in Africa is artificially watered, compared to 20% in Asia. More high-yield seeds and fertilizer also need to be used. In Tanzania, only 9 kg of fertilizers per hectare are spread, compared to 50 kg in South Africa. Another challenge is making more trained extension workers available to local farmers. A further factor is the need to involve women more. Women are at the centre of agriculture in Africa, and yet only receive a fraction of the training. Another issue is helping farmers, particularly those without properly defined land rights, to receive better access to loan credits.

The elimination of farm subsidies, trade tariffs and price controls can contribute enormously to greater productivity. Protectionism tends to benefit farmers in the richer countries rather than those in the developing world. This can lead to huge disparities. But subsidies are also a huge waste of money. Far more effective would be to channel such funds into development aid. These could then be applied to improve storage facilities or the quality and quantity of rice or coffee production. A better environment for investment is needed, particularly for the small farmer.

Session Panellists
William H. Gates III, Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USA
Jakaya M. Kikwete, President of Tanzania
Ellen Kullman, Chair of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, DuPont, USA
Nguyen Tan Dung, Prime Minister of Vietnam; Chair, 2010 ASEAN
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director, World Bank, Washington DC;
Patricia A. Woertz, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), USA
Moderated by Prannoy Roy, Chairman, New Delhi Television (NDTV), India


DuPont CEO: Agriculture is Key to Global Economic Growth, Sustainability and Security

- Pioneer Hi Bred, Feb. 1, 2010 http://www.pioneer.com/

DAVOS-KLOSTERS, Switzerland - Agriculture is a game-changer that addresses multiple global issues – hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, poor nutrition and subsequent effects such as civil unrest, DuPont Chair and CEO Ellen Kullman Leaving Pioneer.com told attendees of the 40th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.

“Delivering on the potential for agriculture to address critical, global issues may be the greatest opportunity of our generation,” said Kullman. “It is possible, but it will take a radical new approach to collaboration.”

Kullman is attending the World Economic Forum Leaving Pioneer.com and participating in the panel discussion on “Rethinking How to Feed the World.” According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, food production will need to nearly double by the middle of this century to feed the world population expected at that time. Panelists were asked to consider what it would take to achieve food security, environmental sustainability and economic growth through agriculture.

“Global food security challenges are becoming more complex and interconnected. Collaborations among organizations will need to follow suit – becoming more interconnected to leverage the strengths of organizations across the public and private sectors,” said Kullman.

Kullman said the World Economic Forum’s multi-stakeholder initiative, “A New Vision for Agriculture," Leaving Pioneer.com in which DuPont is participating, could become the model for addressing global challenges broadly. The business-led initiative seeks to increase private-sector engagement and partnership with stakeholders including governments, international organizations, farmers’ associations, civil society and academia.

“The need for collaboration between public and private entities is nothing new,” said Kullman. “What is new is the urgency to start listening, not talking past each other and working toward common goals of finding practical, sustainable solutions that can make real differences to people today and can be replicated for others tomorrow.”


Bill Gates Says Innovation Can Leverage Change

-Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press, January 25, 2010 Writer

In his second annual letter, Gates says investment in science and technology can leverage those dollars and make more of a difference than charity and government aid alone.

The needs of the poor are greater than the money available to help them, but that's not enough to discourage Bill Gates in his work as co-chair of the world's largest charitable foundation. In his second annual letter, issued Monday, Gates says investment in science and technology can leverage those dollars and make more of a difference than charity and government aid alone.

In his 19-page letter, Gates says the foundation currently is backing 30 areas of innovation including online learning, teacher improvement, malaria vaccine development, HIV prevention, and genetically modified seeds.

The Seattle-based foundation focuses most of its donations on global health, agriculture development and education. Since 1994, the foundation has committed to $21.3 billion in grants. As of Sept. 30, 2009, its endowment totaled $34.17 billion.

Gates said his and his wife's experience at Microsoft Corp. is not the only reason they are so taken with technology. "Melinda and I see our foundation's key role as investing in innovations that would not otherwise be funded," he wrote. "This draws not only on our backgrounds in technology but also on the foundation's size and ability to take a long-term view and take large risks on new approaches."


Global Challenges in Ag Productivity - Live Webinar on Feb 12


The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST), along with BIO, the Council for Biotechnology Information and CropLife International, will host a special “Town Hall Meeting” to promote and discuss the release of CAST's first publication of the new year, Agricultural Productivity Strategies for the Future: Addressing U.S. and Global Challenges (Issue Paper 45). The event will take place on Friday, February 12 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Moderated by Frank Sesno, George Washington University, prominent speakers will lead a live and on-line dialogue on how to address challenges that farmers and nations will face over the next century. Panelists include:
· Nina Federoff, Science and Technology Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State and to the Administrator of USAID, author of Mendel in the Kitchen · Mark Cantley, former head of the European Commission’s “Concertation Unit for Biotechnology in Europe” and of OECD’s Biotechnology Unit · Calestous Juma, Pew award winner and Professor of Practice at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government ·Gale Buchanan, lead author of the CAST report and former USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics · Robert Paarlberg, Professor at Wellesley College and author of Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept Out of Africa

Register online for free at: http://newseumcast.eventbrite.com.

The paper's Preface, written by Norman Borlaug as his last published work prior to his death in September 2009, is an updated look at the same topic Dr. Borlaug addressed in 1973 when he drafted CAST's first paper. Gale Buchanan, University of Georgia, Tifton, and formerly Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics, heads the task force.

See CAST Issue Paper that inspired this town hall meeting at http://www.cast-science.org


Take It To The Farmers

- Rosalie Ellasus, Truth About Trade & Technology, Feb. 5, 2010 www.truthabouttrade.org

As Norman Borlaug lay on his deathbed last year, he learned about a new technology that promises to boost food production. “Take it to the farmers,” he said. These were some of his last words.

Now we have what may be his last written words. They appear posthumously, in the preface to a new paper by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, better known as CAST. The father of the Green Revolution penned them shortly before he died.

“We made great strides in the first Green Revolution by bringing improved agricultural techniques, seeds, and technology to poor, underdeveloped, and developing countries,” he wrote. “But in the next 50 years we are going to have to have to produce more food than we have in the last 10,000 years, and that is a daunting task. I therefore have called for a ‘Second Green Revolution.’”

That’s quite a challenge--but clearly it’s one we must meet. On February 12 in Washington, D.C., CAST will co-host a forum on how to ensure food security for a growing world population. I won’t be there myself. I live on the other side of the world, on my farm in the Philippines. But the event will be broadcast on CropNewsNetwork.com. Anyone can participate, no matter where they call home.

The new report from CAST offers a comprehensive overview of the problems and opportunities facing agriculture in the United States and around the world. Specifically, it calls for an aggressive research agenda that will launch a Second Green Revolution.

I couldn’t agree more. I am a believer in modern farming technology and was the pioneer farmer who planted Bt corn in 2003. Demographers predict that in a few decades, our planet with have 9 billion inhabitants. Yet even now, in a world of 6 billion people, we don’t do an adequate job of feeding everyone. As the CAST paper says, about a billion people in poor countries don’t receive enough dietary energy and another billion don’t receive enough proteins and vitamins.

As we figure out how to feed all of these hungry mouths, we’ll have to contend with a series of dilemmas that will only complicate matters. They include the rising cost of fuel and fertilizer, pressure on fresh water supplies, and the challenges of climate change.

Confronting these problems will require an enormous amount of scientific research--and there’s not a moment to lose. “The typical lead time for investments in science and technology to raise agricultural productivity is 10 to 20 years,” says the CAST report. “Delays in investment constitute a cost in foregone output a nation can ill afford.”

In 2005, according to CAST, public agencies invested $23 billion in agricultural research, which was about 50 percent more than in 1981. Yet the rate of new investment has slowed drastically. Every year, we’re devoting fewer new dollars to this critical endeavor.

Every day on my farm--about 24 acres of rice and corn--I benefit from earlier research. My work is both easier and more profitable than it was the first year I farmed. Thanks to biotechnology and other tools, we’ve reduced plowing from three times a year to just once. We’ve also eliminated hand weeding and do a much better job of controlling pests.

Our yields have gone up, too. We’re growing more food than ever before. This is the enduring legacy of the First Green Revolution.

Yet farmers everywhere--from small stakeholders like me to big-time landowners in the wealthiest countries--will have to do better. And that means we’ll need the benefits of a Second Green Revolution.

Scientists will develop new seed 'tools' in laboratories and demonstration plots. Public-policy makers will have to create the conditions for success, first by providing the resources to make this possible and then by building the regulatory protocols that will allow us to take full advantage of our ingenuity.

Ultimately, however, we’ll have to get this work out of the universities and conference rooms and into the fields. We’ll have to take the advice of Norman Borlaug. Let some of the last words of his life be the first words of the Second Green Revolution: take it to the farmers.

Rosalie Ellasus is a first-generation farmer, growing corn and rice in San Jacinto, Philippines.


The Challenge of Improving Nutrition: Facts and Figures

- Priya Shetty, Scidev.net, Jan 20, 2010

Full paper including graphs and references at http://www.scidev.net/en/features/the-challenge-of-improving-nutrition-facts-and-figures-1.html

Hunger: it's an emotive term for undernutrition. It conjures images of famine and starvation in the developing world.

Technically, undernutrition is the outcome of insufficient food and repeated infectious diseases. It includes being severely underweight or dangerously thin (wasted), too short (stunted), and deficient in vitamins and minerals. But the world's food problems are far more complex and widespread than just undernutrition.

Certainly, some people have no food at all and every year approximately 1.5 million children die from wasting caused by severe undernutrition. But most people in poor countries never have to grapple with total starvation — for them, malnutrition caused by an imbalanced or inadequate diet is more likely.

Many rely too much on high-calorie staples, like maize or rice. Good nutrition is not just about consuming enough calories — people need protein and micronutrients they can only get through a balanced diet. When people do not, or cannot, eat a wide range of food, they become malnourished. They can survive, but cannot flourish.

Developing nations already prioritise food security, i.e. ensuring access to food. But it is increasingly clear that simply providing food is not enough. To protect vulnerable populations, governments must also ensure nutrition security.

To do this, they will need interventions that work. These must treat and prevent malnutrition in the short-term and address its underlying causes including poverty, low agricultural output, limited education, and poor healthcare and hygiene in the long-term.

The burden of malnutrition
Back in 2000, the WHO estimated malnutrition affected one in three worldwide. [1] In 2009, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated over a billion people suffer more serious undernutrition. [2]

This staggering statistic is partly the result of a slow but steady rise in the number of malnourished people over the past decade. Economic shocks are partly to blame. The 2006–2008 food and fuel crises priced millions of people out of access to basic staples. And last year's financial crisis is estimated to have added 100 million to the number of malnourished people in the world. [2] The developing world bears almost all of the burden, with South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa the worst affected (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Percentage of population that are undernourished (credit: FAO) [3]
The impacts of malnutrition can be severe (see Box 1). Even the lack of micronutrients that are only needed in miniscule amounts can be a killer, because without them the body cannot produce enzymes and hormones crucial for growth and development.
Box 1: Nutrition number crunch

Global burden
* 1.02 billion people suffer from undernutrition — a serious form of malnutrition.
* 99 per cent of undernourished people live in developing countries.
* 642 million people in Asia and the Pacific are undernourished.
* More than 60 per cent of chronically undernourished people are women.

Childhood malnutrition
* 6 million child deaths every year are linked to malnutrition.
* 1.5 million children die every year because they waste away from undernutrition.
* 178 million children become physically stunted, partly because of not having enough food or vitamins.
* 146 million children under five are underweight.
* More than 50 per cent of those underweight under-fives live in South Asia.
* 20 per cent of deaths in under-fives could be prevented by adhering to breastfeeding guidelines.
Micronutrient deficiencies
* More than 500,000 child deaths every year are linked to lack of vitamin A.
* More than 20 per cent of children under five in developing countries suffer from iron deficiency-related anaemia.
* 40–60 per cent of children in developing countries have impaired mental development due to iron deficiency.
* 2 billion people worldwide are iodine-deficient.
* 176,00 people die from diarrhoea linked to zinc deficiency each year.
* 406,000 people die from pneumonia linked to zinc deficiency each year.
Economic costs
* US$20–30 billion is what undernutrition is estimated to cost economic development each year.
* 12 per cent reduction in lifetime earnings in Zimbabwe is attributable to school years lost to malnutrition.
* up to 20 per cent of children under five are overweight in some developing countries.

Genetic solutions
What if we could solve nutritional problems by tweaking our genetic makeup? The idea that our genes affect the way we process nutrients has given rise to a field of research called nutrigenomics. [11]

Sometimes, the link between genes and nutrients manifests itself fairly simply in the form of food allergies or intolerances (for example widespread lactose intolerance in South-East Asia and southern Africa).

In other cases, it is more complex. For example, changing the diet of patients with heart disease or cancer will have very different results, depending on the person and their individual genetic make-up.

Understanding how genes and nutrients interact within individuals, or within populations, could help design tailored interventions to improve nutrition in the developing world (see Using genetics to tackle malnutrition). But nutrigenomic research is still in early development and is unlikely to deliver pragmatic solutions in the near future.

So what about genetic modification of food crops? GM food offers one way of both securing food supplies in a changing climate (see Can crops be climate-proofed?) and developing biofortified crops such as the much publicised vitamin A-enriched golden rice. But genetically engineering nutritionally enhanced crops — whether it should be done at all, and whether it is possible to do so effectively — remains the subject of much debate (see Can GM crops feed the hungry?).

Root cause
But any effort to safeguard nutrition in the long-term must address the underlying causes of malnutrition — poverty, food insecurity, low education, limited healthcare and poor hygiene.

Investing in agricultural science to make crops more nutritious is also vital. And climate change makes this doubly important. A changing climate could even make current crops less nutritious, by altering the relative protein content in major staple foods (see The 'hidden hunger' caused by climate change).

But simply boosting agricultural productivity to ensure food availability should be a particular priority for developing countries. On this, many organisations, including the FAO and theInternational Food Policy Research Institute(IFPRI), agree.

Journalist Priya Shetty specialises in developing world issues including health, climate change and human rights. She has worked as a news editor at New Scientist, assistant editor at The Lancet, and commissioning editor at SciDev.Net.


What Percentage of American Farms is Organic?



Is Bt Brinjal Safe? Letter to the Editor: Business Standard, India

- Robert Wager, Vancouver Island University, Canada

Once again critics of Bt brinjal are calling for long term studies of this GM crop. This would be a worlds first. There are a great number of safety studies of food containing GM ingredients and an excellent review was done by the European Food Safety Agency report: Food and Chemical Toxicology 46 (2008) S2–S70, Safety and nutritional assessment of GM plants and derived food and feed: The role of animal feeding trials. Report of the EFSA GMO Panel Working Group on Animal Feeding Trials. They conclude:

“Many subchronic feeding studies in rodents have been conducted over the past 15 years on food and feed derived from GM plants developed so far. Those studies which were well designed and followed internationally accepted protocols did not reveal indications of adverse effects. The results obtained from the testing of GM food and feed in rodents indicate that large safety margins can be established between the levels of animal exposure and the estimated human daily intakes without adverse effects. S-59

There is not a single long term safety study for any food anywhere in the world. No organic food, no conventional food nor any GM ingredient containing food has ever been studied in a controlled long term study. The reason is it is impossible to do so. The confounding variables become overwhelming in any such study making any conclusion impossible. The safety of Bt proteins in food is well documented. The UN-OECD Consensus Document on Safety Information on Bacillus thuringiensis - Derived Insect Control Proteins ENV/JM/MONO(2007)14 states:

Human Risk Assessment “The acute oral toxicity data on Cry1Ab, Cry1Ac, Cry9C, Cry3A, Cry1F, Cry2Ab2, Cry3Bb1, Cry34Ab1, and Cry35Ab1 supports the prediction that the Cry proteins would be non-toxic to humans. When proteins are toxic, they are known to act via acute mechanisms and at very low dose level (Sjoblad et al., 1992). Therefore, since no effects were seen in the acute tests, even at relatively high dose levels, these delta-endotoxin proteins are not considered toxic to humans. Both the long history of safe use of B. thuringiensis and the acute oral toxicity data allow for a conclusion that these and other delta-endotoxins pose negligible toxicity risk to humans. Pp.33

Two successive safety studies by experts in India Genetic Engineering and Approval Committee further confirm these assessments by the EFSA and the UN-OECD. Either India is determining the safety of food (including GM crops) by scientific methods or it is not. Which is it?


India: Monsanto Defends Bt Crops

- Hindustan Times, Feb 5, 2010

In the row over Bt brinjal, the voice of the farmer still remains unheard. “I can count on the fingers of both hands the number of farmers across the world who don’t want biotechnology,” says Brett Begemann, executive vice president, global seeds and traits, Monsanto. Begemann, on a visit to India, said that the challenge ahead is to double food production by 2050, a task impossible without biotechnology.

He feels that those who oppose Bt crops and advocate locally grown organic food are only few and far between. “If you live in a city with its limited space, is it possible to have large gardens of organic vegetables and chickens scratching around?-- So let us be realistic, to feed large numbers of people on the same amount of land, we need technology.”

He cites the Indian experience with Bt cotton as an example of how biotech can change lives. With 22.5 million hectares under Bt cotton cultivation, the farmer is getting an extra Rs 8,000 per acre. Bt cotton farmers make Rs 12, 000 crore annually and Rs 2,500 crore is saved on insecticides. The economic value to the nation from Bt cotton is more than Rs 40,000 crore.

What does he say to the allegations that open field trials could lead to pollen contamination? “Pollen flow has been there ever since farming began. These are old arguments that are being regurgitated.”

Begemann sees great environmental and economic advantage of biotech crops. There will be less pesticides around and surely “it’s no one contention that this is a bad thing. If the Indian prime minister, a man of immense knowledge, has spoken of the need for technology in farming, we can be certain we are on to a good thing.”


Jairam Ramesh Evasive on Bt Brinjal

- India Times, Feb. 2, 2010. Video at http://www.timesnow.tv/Jairam-Ramesh-evasive-on-Bt-Brinjal/videoshow/4337648.cms

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh is evasive on Bt Brinjal and has clearly said on Tuesday (February 2) that no decision has been taken on BT Brinjal. The consultation process is still on and only after the meeting on February 6th in Bangalore he will take a decision and announce it on February 7th.

Earlier, Minister of State for Agriculture K V Thomas has come out in strong favour of BT Brinjal. Thomas on Tuesday (February 2) said that Genetic Engineering is a developing science. He says, one hould not oppose BT Brinjal only because multi national companies are involved. "The opposition is merely propoganda of Left Parties. The use of BT Brinjal should not be opposed just because it comes from the west," Thomas said.

"These are just propagandas of the Left parties. They opposed even the computers and mobile phones. The world has become a big market, you should never oppose anything just because it is coming from America or Europe, added Thomas." This is for the people, our country is also developing lot of products based on genetic engineering, what about those products. We are not in a hurry. Lets discuss all sides. Bt Brinjal is good for the country, said K V Thomas.

Meanwhile, with the voices of protest in India against BT Brinjal got louder, what began as a small issue in India has now grown to a global issue with Indians' protest now getting global attention. The issue is now subject of intense debate, as the country tries to figure out the benefits and harmful effects of its genetically modified (GM) variant. With questions being raised over whether Indian farmers will now be held hostage and become dependent on large U.S companies producing the genetically modified seeds for the genetically modified Brinjal.

Reacting to the debate over the BT Brinjal, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said that the view of the expert committee should be final. He said, "If after all precautions they have come to the conclusion that this is beneficiary, we should not oppose it."

But even the chairperson of the expert committee Dr Arjula Reddy conceded that more tests could have been done. "If more tests were done and if there was a subtle or harmful effect it would have come out. However, regulatory authorities have not prescribed them for a long time," Reddy said.


Sharad Pawar Bats for Bt Brinjal, Raps Its Opponents

- Sanjay Jog, Business Standard (India) Feb 5, 2010 S

Mumbai - The Union agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, on Thursday brushed off all allegations and reiterated his support for the introduction of Bt Brinjal. He asserted that the introduction of the genetically-modified Brinjal can take place as it has been recommended by Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), a scientific body, after carrying out a series of trials and tests on its impact on nature.

“If the introduction of Bt Brinjal will be in the larger interest of the country, farmers and for the food security at large, it should happen,” Pawar said. GEAC, the environment ministry-appointed committee, has found out that Bt Brinjal is not harmful. The agriculture minister suspected the involvement of the pesticide companies, if any, in opposing the introduction of Bt Brinjal.

He, however, explained that the environment ministry gives clearance for the launch of new variety of seeds. Once the environment ministry gives its approval, the matter is forwarded to the agriculture ministry. “After the environment ministry’s approval, the agriculture ministry will have no hesitation to extend its support. So far such a clearance for Bt Brinjal from the environment ministry is awaited.”

He said similar protests were witnessed against the introduction of Bt Cotton about six years ago. “However, Bt Cotton is now grown on nearly 92 per cent of the cotton growing area in the country. In fact, this has led to a record hike in India’s cotton production.”

“Farmers do not go by such opposition but they always weigh what is beneficial for them and for the country as a whole,” Pawar said. He also took a swipe against the non-government organisations (NGOs) for opposing Bt Brinjal. “India imports 40 per cent of its edible oil requirement and that is largely produced through genetically-modified soyabean. It’s quite ironical that when NGOs from the edible oil producing countries are quiet on this issue, they are providing feed to the NGOs in the country against Bt Brinjal.”