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February 12, 2010


Fighting 21st Century Food Crisis; Non-State Actors Shaping Policy; Green Counter-revolution; More Brawl Over Brinjal; Vandana Shouts Out


* Farming Must Embrace GM technology to Fight 21st-century Food Crisis
* Fedoroff Interview: Measuring Food Insecurity, Rethinking Ag,
* Policies for GM Crops in Developing Countries: The Role of Non-State Actors
* International Law and Genetically Modified Foods
* Video: Biotech and Increased Nutritional Value in Food
* Promoting Health by Linking Agriculture, Food and Nutrition
* India's Green Counter-revolution
* Scientists Slam Key Study Behind Bt Brinjal Ban
* More Brawl Over Bt Brinjal
* Vandana Shoutfest: IBN Panel discussion - Face The Nation
* Bt-brinjal: The Verdict Is Out, But What's Next?
* Agricultural Biotechnology Can Help Solve Food Shortages in Africa
* Global Biosafety Management Program
* Food, Feed, and Fuel for the World: Seeds and Biotechnology

Farming Must Embrace GM technology to Fight 21st-century Food Crisis

- Mark Henderson The Times (UK) February 12, 2010 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/

Farming must fully embrace genetically modified (GM) crops to meet the dual challenges of population growth and global warming, according to Hillary Clinton's chief scientist.

Nina Fedoroff, who advises the US Secretary of State on science and technology, heads a group of senior researchers who call today for a "radical rethink" of farm practice to meet 21st-century demand for food.

Writing in the journal Science, they urge world leaders to do more to promote GM technologies so that scientists can create crops that produce higher yields and that can grow in the harsh conditions of a warmer world. "There is a critical need to get beyond popular biases against the use of agricultural biotechnology and develop forward-looking regulatory frameworks based on scientific evidence," the scientists say. They argue that an agricultural revolution is needed to address two threats to global food security over the coming century.

The world's population is forecast to rise from 6.8 billion today to about 9 billion by 2050, creating a vastly increased demand for food. At the same time climate change is likely to reduce the yields of much of the land currently under cultivation, creating a risk that food production will fall as demand for it rises.

The authors, who include climate experts, plant biologists and agricultural researchers, point to a little-reported effect of the 2003 European heat wave as a harbinger of things to come. "The average temperature that summer was only about 3.5C above the average for the last century," they say. "The 20 to 36 per cent decrease in the yields of grains and fruits that summer drew little attention. But if the climate scientists are right, summers will be that hot on average by mid-century."

Global warming is likely to reduce yields because photosynthesis is less efficient in many crops at raised temperatures. GM technology has the potential to deliver improved crop yields from arable land and to create new varieties that can thrive in salty soil and during drought and floods, the researchers say.

The report comes amid increasing pressure from scientists for greater use of GM crops. Britain's chief scientist, John Beddington, has backed GM as part of the solution to global food security, as has Sir Gordon Conway, a former chief scientist at the Department for International Development.


Fedoroff Interview: Measuring Food Insecurity, Rethinking Agriculture, and Eating Less Meat

- Science Magazine Podcast, February 12 2010. Excerpt below.

Listen to the audio: http://podcasts.aaas.org/science_podcast/SciencePodcast_100212.mp3
Transcript at http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/327/5967/887-b/DC1

This week: a special podcast on food security to go along with the special section in the magazine. We'll hear about how scientists are rethinking agriculture for the 21st Century, measuring food insecurity in the first place, and whether one commonly held strategy of eating less meat leads to greater food security

Host – Robert Frederick - When food prices spiked in 2008, there were food riots in more than 30 countries around the world. As Nina Fedoroff puts it:
Interviewee – Nina Fedoroff I have the growing feeling that this can be a major source of bringing civilizations down. Host – Robert Frederick

"Bringing civilizations down." Fedoroff is a molecular biologist at Penn State University and is also the Science and Technology Adviser to the United States State Department, but her views should not be construed as representing those of the U.S. government. Interviewee – Nina Fedoroff

Most of the decision-makers today live in cities, and, for them, there's no problem. "What is the problem? You know, I go to the grocery store. I get food." We are so disconnected from the Earth's ability to grow food that we take it for granted.

Host – Later in the podcast, we'll hear more from Nina Fedoroff, who is lead author of a Perspective on rethinking agriculture. But first, freelancer David Malakoff has this introduction to the special issue. Malakoff edited the news portion of the special section.

News Editor – David Malakoff- This week’s special issue on Food Security tackles a pretty complicated problem: how to make sure everyone in the world has enough to eat. Now, to understand the basics of the food security challenge, it helps to know one number – nine billion – that’s what demographers expect world population will be in just 40 years. That’s about 3 billion more people than we have now. And most of them will live in poorer, less developed nations in Africa and Asia. The problem is that many of those nations are already having trouble feeding their people. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough food. Sometimes, there’s enough food, but people can’t afford to buy it. In any case, the concern is that food insecurity will grow as the population grows. Already, more than two dozen countries are facing a serious risk of food insecurity. And many of them are the same countries in Africa and Asia that are already having trouble feeding their people.

Unfortunately, there is no single solution to reducing that risk. It will require understanding the food implications of global markets, of international trade, of human psychology, even the food traditions that determine what we like to eat. Ensuring food security will also require figuring out how to get bigger harvests. By some estimates, global yields will need to double or even triple over the next 40 years to keep pace with population growth.

In the special issue, we take a close look at how science and technology can help farmers boost yields, particularly in the developing world. We look at efforts to improve soil fertility, even in places where farmers might not have the money to buy synthetic fertilizers. We explore ways of getting more crop from every drop of water, especially in dry regions. We examine new methods of speeding the creation of better seed varieties. And we look at efforts to defend against the pests and diseases that can devastate harvests.
Of course, these efforts aren’t likely to blossom overnight. And researchers still need to figure out how to increase the food supply without seriously damaging the environment or adding to global warming. But, eventually, researchers hope the world can balance food security with other needs and help farmers reap big enough harvests to prevent hunger.

Host – RDuring the latter half of the 20th century, the agricultural innovations of the Green Revolution allowed farmers to grow so much more food that the proportion of the world's hungry dropped from half to less than a sixth. And that happened even as the world's population doubled from 3 billion to 6 billion people. In a Perspective in this week's Science, Nina Fedoroff and colleagues argue that we must radically rethink agriculture for the 21st century as the human population continues to grow

Nina Fedoroff- The amount of arable land has not changed in more than half a century and is not likely to in the future. The population experts are predicting that we are going to add somewhere between two and three billion more people to the face of the Earth. As people develop economically, they demand more meat in their diet. That increases the land requirements, because it takes much more grain to make a pound of hamburger than it does to make a pound of you, and so forth. And the climate is warming, which is likely to make the most populous parts of the globe hotter and drier.

Interviewer – So, broadly speaking what do you and your coauthors propose is needed to radically rethink agriculture?

ina Fedoroff- Well, we think that we need to make it easier to use modern science. Science has made enormous increases in agricultural productivity over the past two centuries, but we’ve now made it very, very difficult to use the contemporary molecular biology of the last 30 years by requiring all kinds of regulations. We need to rethink that, and we need to make it easier for the vast number of agriculture, of plant biologists that we now have to actually do things that help farmers. Because it’s anticipated that climate change will not only make some parts of the world hotter and drier, but they will change the whole pattern of pests and diseases. I don’t mean this of people, but of agriculture.

Interviewer – What’s needed, then? What barriers could be removed that would help make it easier to use modern science, as you say?

Nina Fedoroff- It’s not easier to use—everybody is using it—but it is difficult to get a crop that has been modified by molecular techniques approved. It generally requires analysis and approval by at least two, and sometimes three, regulatory agencies, depending on the nature of the modification – EPA, USDA, and FDA. And it costs many millions of dollars. Well, in fact, what that has done is driven public sector scientists out of improving crops. The best route that they have is to collaborate with a big multinational company, but, in fact, the difficulty is that many of the crops that traditionally land grant university scientists help farmers with are local crops, local pests. So, for example, the kind of virus that affects papayas in Hawaii is distant enough genetically from the one in the Philippines that you have to do a completely different modification, a new modification using the same principle. So there’s a lot of work to be done. It isn’t necessarily going to be of interest to companies whose objective is to make money, whereas traditionally our scientists in the agricultural research universities have helped local farmers with their problems.

Interviewer – Robert Frederick- In your view, what’s the first step towards not just radically rethinking agriculture but changing agriculture?

Nina Fedoroff- Well, I think beyond just regulations, the modern molecular methods can, basically, if we’re working only on the crops that we’ve been using for the past couple of hundred years, and which are the major food crops today, food and feed crops – and that’s corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice – these are crops that do best in temperate climates. As the climate warms, those temperature zones will move north, probably some new lands will open up, don’t know how much, but what is known for sure – and is already happening – is that the area of arid land, land that’s too hot to grow such crops, will increase.

So, my view is that beyond the incremental changes that one can accomplish with existing crops, I think we need to accelerate looking at crops that grow best in desert environments, look at more integrated aquaculture to agriculture and do much more with seawater. It’s freshwater that’s becoming scarce, as the competition between agriculture and other kinds of applications, uses, whether it be urban or cooling water for energy generation, whatever the application, there is already increasing competition for freshwater. And the supply is a tiny fraction, a few percent, of the total water on the face of the Earth.

Interviewer – Is research into that kind of thing—using seawater—most deserving? Where do we spend resources here?

Nina Fedoroff- On all of the above. I think we have to increase our efforts particularly in the case of biofuels. Because at the moment we can pretty much feed the world, but already we’re on the edge. The kinds of surpluses that we had decades ago just don’t exist anymore. And so, a bad year for drought in much of the world can really push up staple prices, and this, of course, affects the poorest of the poor the most. So, I think we need to be thinking much, much more in the case of biofuels, of plants that grow in the desert on seawater, so to absolutely eliminate the competition between cropland and land that’s used for biofuels, which is what we have today. And we have to begin to domesticate plants that we haven’t domesticated before. Our current crops have been being domesticated and improved for many thousands of years.

Interviewer – So, beyond, then, continuing on with their own work, perhaps with a greater sense of urgency, what can scientists do to advance further the radically rethought agriculture that you and your team are proposing?

Interviewee – Nina Fedoroff- Well, I think scientists are constantly interacting with the regulators, at least certainly in this, and the public. So, part of it is interacting with the public; part of it is what individual scientists can do is continue to try to push forward modifications and seek avenues for getting them approved. We have a New Institute of Food and Agriculture, NIFA, and that’s a perfect place to organize such a facility that would support scientists in doing the testing that’s required. But on the other side of it, I think that scientists can also serve on the committees that pass these regulations; often the regulations are promulgated by committees where those scientists are not well represented. So, those are all things that individual scientists can do.

Interviewer – Robert Frederick- Internationally, what can farmers and scientists outside of the United States be doing to implement these changes?

Nina Fedoroff- Well, interestingly enough, I just came from a talk with a colleague who works in India. Actually, it’s farmers that have accepted very rapidly the genetically modified crops. The problem is that the governments and the regulatory bureaucracies are really behind them. If farmers perceive that a genetically modified crop is better, and it’s available, he or she will adopt it. And that’s what’s happening internationally. And what the scientists do around the world is, scientists try to make themselves heard, they serve on committees – the point is that there’s essentially, in 13 years of commercial growing and in 30 years of research experience – no one has identified any problem that has arisen from the use of recombinant DNA technology. And we keep having to prove it over and over and over again, and scientists just need to keep a, keep participating, keep up the pressure.

Interviewer – What didn’t you get to say in this Perspective that you would have liked to have?

Nina Fedoroff- Well, I think that it’s a sense of urgency that what I’d really like to be able to communicate is that sense of urgency. Most of the decision-makers today live in cities, and for them there’s no problem. "What is the problem? You know, I go to the grocery store, I get food." We are so disconnected from the Earth’s ability to grow food that we take it for granted. And I have the growing feeling that this can be a major source of bringing civilizations down. We already see it on a small scale in poor countries.

So, for example, when the food prices spiked in 2008, there were food riots in more than 30 countries around the world. And that doesn’t really touch decision-makers in Washington, D.C., or in New York, or in London, and so forth. I don’t know how to communicate the sense of urgency. We need to spend more money – we spend probably a hundred times as much money on biomedical research as we do on agricultural research. We simply don’t understand that there’s a problem.


Policies for Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries: The Role of Non-State Actors

- Mara Nielle Bird, Dissertation for Ph.D. - International Relations, University of Southern California - 2006. Full thesis at

The objective of this study is to address the puzzle of why states in the developing world with similar concerns and conditions have been slow to adopt transgenic (recombinant DNA, genetically modified/engineered) crop technologies, while others were pioneer users and developers of this technology.

The central hypothesis tested here is that the type of involvement, defined as different strategies and access to institutional structures as well as varying organizational resources, of non-state actors (NSAs), both non-profit (nongovernmental organizations, NGOs) and for-profit (industry), accounts for these differences. A second hypothesis is that variation in institutional context accounts for the differences in policies towards rDNA crops. Differences in institutional context include which level of government and type of institutions are responsible for policies for rDNA crops.

Both hypotheses are tested in three case study countries (Brazil, India and Argentina) at three levels of analysis: international, national/federal and subnational (state and local). For each case country, the policy areas related to transgenic crops --intellectual property rights, trade, biosafety, food safety and consumer choice, and public researchóare examined for the years 1996-2002.

The study reveals that in India and Brazil, NGO strategies were key, while in Argentina, industry actor access to the institutional structure was most important. This work also highlights the importance of the institutional context, which played a role in the policy differences in all three case studies. Centralization of policy-making tended to lead to more promotional policies for genetically modified crops, while the inclusion and counter-balancing of a wider set of actors (whether governmental or non-state actors) resulted in more precautionary policies.

(Hat Tip: Andy Apel)


International Law and Genetically Modified Foods

- Mark A. Pollack and Gregory C. Shaffer, Paperback, 456 pages, Oxford University Press, USA (July 26, 2009) ISBN-13: 978-0199567058, Amazon.com

The U.S. and Europe have been engaged in conflict for some time over Genetically Modified organisms. The authors of this book, Pollack and Schaffer, examine the steps necessary in reconciling regulatory differences among nations through international cooperation.


Video: Biotechnology and Increased Nutritional Value in Food

Dr. Targan explains how biotechnology is helping to improve the nutritional value of our food. See what researchers are doing to increase levels of health-enhancing omega-3 acids in cooking oils.



Promoting Health by Linking Agriculture, Food and Nutrition

- UC Davis, June 16-18, 2010; NABC 22 http://nabc.ucdavis.edu/

Is Food the Problem? Addressing global health through agriculture, food science, medicine, and engineering

The National Agricultural Biotechnology Council has been hosting annual public meetings about the safe, ethical, and efficacious development of agricultural biotechnology products since its formation by the Boyce Thompson Institute in collaboration with Cornell University, Iowa State University, and the University of California, Davis, in 1988. Today the organization, a not-for-profit consortium of 36 leading agricultural research and teaching governmental agencies, institutions, and universities in the U.S. and Canada, continues to provide all stakeholders the opportunity to speak, to listen, and to learn about the issues surrounding agricultural biotechnology.

About UC Davis - For 100 years, UC Davis has helped transform the world. The campus is located in the center of California, close to the San Francisco Bay Area, the Napa Valley wine country, and Lake Tahoe.


India's Green Counter-revolution

- Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Feb 11, 2010 http://online.wsj.com/

'India's government resurrects the Frankenfood scare.'

Few countries have benefitted more from the Green Revolution than India, which in the 1960s succeeded in averting famine by introducing genetically modified strains of wheat and rice. So it's a pity to see the government backsliding on the next generation of GM foods, this time in the form of a campaign against the humble egglplant.

Environment and Forestry Minister Jairam Ramesh announced Tuesday that he would halt indefinitely the commercial cultivation of genetically modified eggplant, known locally as Bt Brinjal. He cited a need to "build a broader consensus" so India can "harness the full potential of GM technology in agriculture in a safe and sustainable manner."

It's unclear what consensus would satisfy Mr. Ramesh. The eggplant in question, developed by a local Indian company that's partly owned by Monsanto, has been undergoing testing for a decade. India's own Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, composed of eminent scientists from across the country, approved the strain in October, adding it was "effective in controlling target pests, safe to the environment, nontoxic as determined by toxicity and animal feeding tests, non-allergenic and has potential to benefit the farmers."

Which makes Mr. Ramesh's decree no small setback. India is the second-largest eggplant producer in the world. Its farmers lose around 40% of the crop annually to a pest that the genetically modified strain would have suppressed. Modern science could have increased crop yields, improved safety and lowered costs for India's poorest citizens.

Instead, Mr. Ramesh has resurrected a decade-old "Frankenfood" scare over GM foods. The Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi dubbed Tuesday's decision "a question of public health, which can't be compromised at any cost." This represents the typical stance of green groups, who use the precautionary principle to argue against all genetically modified crops despite the scientific evidence of their safety.

In India, however, there is also a strong undercurrent of protectionism in this debate. For instance, Greenpeace India called for a halt to 41 other GM food crops under development in the name of "food security"-code for protectionism against foreign imports. In a statement explaining his decision, Mr. Ramesh, among other things, referenced "very serious fears" of "Monsanto controlling our food chain." That kind of raw populism doesn't encourage a serious debate.

Monsanto has been in the cross-hairs of NGOs in India before. Its genetically modified cotton, introduced in the country in 2002, sparked hysterical protests. Eight years later, India has doubled its cotton yields and is now the world's second-largest producer, behind China.

Tuesday's decision doesn't only affect Monsanto. It will discourage other foreign companies who want to sell biotech innovations into India, blunt the aspiration of native Indian entrepreneurs, and leave India's poor worse off as they await New Delhi's elusive "consensus."


Bt Brinjal from Bangla, Philippines Might Come to India

- Rediff Business, February 12, 2010 http://business.rediff.com

The environment ministry's moratorium on the commercial release of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) brinjal in India is unlikely to keep the genetically modified crop out of Indian kitchens. It may creep in via Bangladesh and Philippines, according to A R Reddy, co-chair of Genetic Engineering Approval (now Appraisal) Committee that approved the vegetable for commercial use.

Both countries, he said, were in an advanced stage of research and it was only a matter of time before this variety was released in their respective countries. Once that happened, it would be tough for the government to keep an eye on the movement of seeds, said Reddy who is also vice-chancellor of Yogi Vemanna University in Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh. He pointed out that Bt cotton found its way to Andhra Pradesh and was clandestinely cultivated in about 20,000 hectare because commercial cultivation was delayed in the state, though Gujarat had allowed it.

Reddy, who took charge as vice-chancellor on Wednesday, is deeply critical of the environment minister's decision. He told Business Standard that the moratorium on Bt brinjal would hamper the progress of research on bhindi, tomato, cabbage and other vegetables.

"Research on Bt brinjal was conducted over nine years from 2001 to 2009. The deliberations during this time indicated that it is safe," he said pointing out that China has approved Bt rice, which has a higher Bt protein than the one in brinjal. "If rice can be safe, why not brinjal," he asked.

Referring to Ramesh's statements that the moratorium could be used to conduct additional tests, Reddy said, "It is not clear what kind of additional tests are needed. Who will prescribe them? Who actually advised the government on additional tests? What it is the structure of the consultations that led to this decision?"

Reddy said by imposing a moratorium on Bt brinjal the government has sent the wrong signals to the scientific community and would hamper innovation ]. "Agreed, there is no hurry to introduce Bt brinjal. But isn't nine years a fair amount of time to come to a decision?" he asked. The tests for Bt brinjal were conducted by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, University of Agriscience (Dharwar) and Institute of Vegetable Research. All these were public institutions, Reddy added.

The GEAC co-chair was also unhappy that the government had modified the full form of GEAC to replace the word "approval" with appraisal. "If the government did not care for the recommendations made by the GEAC, comprising scientists from 20 institutions, the doubts should have been sent back to the committee for clarifications. "The additional tests required should have also been mentioned to it,'' he said adding that in the past nine years Mahyco has been given 21 permits for Bt brinjal.

Reddy added that it would be difficult to keep the private sector out of the commercialisation of seed technologies. Moreover, the public sector should do research on the technologies. "The government should rather regulalate the commercialisation of technologies and not actually do it itself,'' he said. Reddy suggested that instead of a blanket moratorium, the government should have allowed the commercial cultivation in limited areas with strict surveillance and conduct various tests.

Hybrids were not needed every year and other variants could well be cultivated. Bt brinjal would not alter the soil so much that it would not allow cultivation of other seeds. He accepted the minister's argument in favour of an independent biotechnology regulatory authority. "The new authority should be akin to United States Food and Drug Administration," he said. On Bt brinjal posing a threat to the native species of the brinjal, he said there were several species that were not crossable.


Scientists Slam Key Study Behind Bt Brinjal Ban

- Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, New Delhi , February 12, 2010 http://www.hindustantimes.com/

A vital study cited by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to justify his decision to disallow the commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal in India is flawed, claim top European scientists.

While making his announcement on Tuesday, Ramesh had referred to the findings of France-based Caen University professor Gilles-Eric Séralini and his team, which had branded Bt brinjal — India’s first genetically modified (GM) food crop — “unsafe”. HT, in December 2008, had been the first to report on Séralini’s study.

India’s decision has sparked a major debate in European academic circles. Experts now claim Séralini was unduly influenced by the renowned international NGO Greenpeace — with its aggressive green agenda — which sponsored the study, and never carried out a peer-reviewed laboratory study on GM crops he called hazardous, including Bt maize and Bt brinjal, its gene or seeds.

The European Food Safety Association, a risk assessment body, last month trashed Séralini’s findings on Monsanto’s MON 863, a variety of Bt maize. “Séralini only gave theoretical comments on publicly available biosafety data on Bt brinjal. He never carried out an independent study. He never had access to the Bt gene of either maize or brinjal,” Marc Van Montagu, inventor of the recombinant DNA technology in plants — on which Bt brinjal is based — told HT from the Belgian university city of Gent.

A number of scientists, including Montagu, are now planning to write to Indian politicians, refuting Séralini claims. “We want Indian politicians and the public to take a decision on sound scientific bases, not influenced by biased information. Neither nature nor human health are effected by BT,” their soon-to-be-released letter says.

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh told Hindustan Times he would like Séralini’s paper to be peer-reviewed. “I would welcome a peer review. But Séralini was only one scientist I had quoted,” he said.

However, of the eight foreign scientists cited by the minister, only Séralini’s findings relate to health hazards. “Séralini never did any study on Bt brinjal itself. Bt brinjal seeds were never exported to France. All Séralini did was interpret Bt brinjal safety data in a biased way,” said Arjula Reddy, co-chairman of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee told Hindustan Times from Hyderabad.

Séralini could not be reached for comments despite repeated attempts.


More Brawl Over Bt Brinjal

- Business Standard, February 12, 2010 http://www.business-standard.com/

Jairam Ramesh today led another line of assault, saying government scientists who had dared to oppose the introduction of Bt brinjal were being harassed. At the same time, senior agricultural scientists have started to openly attack Ramesh on the decision.

“I have independent reports from ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) scientists that those who raised even mild queries on introduction of Bt brinjal are now being harassed,” said Ramesh.

The Deputy Director General of ICAR, Swapan Datta, denied it. He said no ICAR scientist had any dissenting view on Bt brinjal. “I don’t know if any ICAR scientist would disagree.” He said the science was sound. “It is written on the wall. Science will prevail.”

Referring to the approval of the commercialisation of Bt brinjal by the scientific body, Datta said, it had received the go-ahead from top authorities. “The agriculture minister endorsed it, the minister of state endorsed it, the Minister for Science and Technology endorsed it and the Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, endorsed it.”

Asked if he agreed with the environment minister’s view that public-funded effort had to be encouraged in biotechnology in agriculture, Datta said: “If the Ministry of Environment thinks so, it should come up with a $5 billion investment so we can design crop research.”

The senior government scientist added: “In my office no one knows if we got any money from the Minister of Environment. He should put some money on science. I would love to have some money from him.”


Vandana Shoutfest: IBN Panel discussion "Face The Nation"

Interview with Jairam Ramesh. Vandana Shiva and Swapan Datta  debate although it is more of a shouting  match.


Note: There are four parts to this video. Click on numbers below the video frame especially the videos 2 - 4 to watch the heated debate.


Bt-brinjal: The Verdict Is Out, But What's Next?

- T. M. Manjunath, AgBioView, Feb 12, 2010 http://www.agbioworld.org

The public hearing on Bt-brinjal conducted by the Hon'ble Minister for Environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh, at Bengaluru on Feb 6th went as expected - it was dominated by aggressive and professional agitators, too many volunteers to speak, the atmosphere was noisy and not conducive to express any scientific views and, moreover, any positive voice was insulted and shouted down! Therefore, many scientists preferred to remain silent or stayed at home. The scenario was the same in other places also where he held similar meetings. This was not unexpected.

The fact remains that the Bt gene, Cry1Ac, that has been incorporated in Bt-brinjal is almost similar to the one in Bt-cotton. It has undergone all conceivable biosafety tests separately in several countries like the USA, Argentina, Australia, China and India for 8 to 10 years and has been approved by the regulatory authorities in each country - by GEAC in India - as safe to humans, animals and environment.

These tests were conducted as per international conscience and protocols. Moreover, Bt-cotton with the same gene (Cry1Ac) has been cultivated on millions of acres in the USA, China and other countries since 1996 and in India since 2002 and it has not caused any scientifically proven adverse effects. It is an established fact that it has received unprecedented acceptance by farmers and brought social, economic and environmental benefits. However, a few NGOs and individuals have made unsubstantiated allegations regarding its safety and are continuing to spread misinformation even now. It was Bt-cotton then, now Bt-brinjal!

Now that the Environment Minister has taken a decision and announced moratorium on Bt-brinjal until further tests are done to confirm its safety, the opponents are celebrating. It will be interesting to know what these additional biosafety tests are, why were these not suggested or accepted earlier, who will approve their protocols, how these are going to be conducted, who will conduct these, what is the time frame, and, moreover, are these going to satisfy all?

Most of the eminent scientists may not wish to participate in this new exercise as their credibility and competence have already been hurt by overlooking the GEAC recommendations. Further, if the proposed new studies reconfirm the safety of Bt-brinjal, are those anti-biotech lobbies willing to accept the results gracefully and allow its commercialization without resorting to further demands and agitation? Very doubtful! Habits die hard!!

Since the Environment Minister has given so much importance to their demands, he must insist on such an undertaking by them, as otherwise whatever he has done so far in this regard is going to be a waste at the cost of technology and genuine farmers.


Agricultural Biotechnology Can Help Solve Food Shortages in Africa

- AfricaBio http://www.africabio.com

South Africa, February 8, 2010 - Africa missed out on Dr Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution thatlifted more than a billion people out of poverty, hunger and famine in Asia. Today, food consumption per capita has increased every where except in Africa, excluding South Africa.

According to the FAO (United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation) more than 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa face starvation. Grain yields average 1.1t/ha compared to 4.8t/ha in SouthAfrica.

The gene revolution, genetically modified crops, can make a difference to help end starvation and poverty on the continent, says Professor C.S. Prakash, from Tuskegee University in USA.

Professor Prakash, eminent research scientist and a world renownedauthority on agricultural biotechnology, was speaking at the Eastern and Southern African Biotechnology stakeholders meeting in Pretoria onthe needs of Africa’s agriculture. The meeting was convened by AfricaBio.

Prakash, who was on a short visit to South Africa, pointed out that the 'Green Revolution' increased food production in India from 50 to230 million tons during the past five decades. Wheat production alone increased from six to 100 million tons per year. Today’s genetically modified crops can produce the same results in sub-Saharan Africa, he emphasised.

The technology can undoubtedly improve Africa’s food and nutritionalsecurity, increase crop productivity, promote truly sustainableagriculture and eliminate poverty and hunger by producing more food onless land while using less water and fewer chemicals.

One of the most important developments, he explained, was the GM'drought- tolerant' maize trials carried out in Kenya, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – less drop, more crop. Monsanto’s DT trials in South Africa are in an advanced stage with promising results that could also benefit Africa as a whole.

He vehemently rejected fears raised by activists concerning the safety and health risks to humans and animals or contamination of the environment by GM crops as “scientifically unsubstantiated hogwash”. “Over two billion acres of GM crops have been grown worldwide since 1996. More than 50 000 food products contain GM ingredients consumed by humans. Not a single case of scientifically substantiated adverse effects to humans, animals or the environment has ever been reported.

“GM food is safer than conventional food and has been endorsed by 5000 scientists, 24 Nobel Laureates, The EU Scientific Commission and the Royal Society of London,” he added.


Global Biosafety Management Program

- March, 27 – 31 2010; Goa, India. http://www.sathguru.com/biosafety

'To discuss the contemporary Science, Management and Regulation of genetically engineered product development and delivery.'

Recent breakthroughs in biotechnology research has brought to the world a wide variety of useful agricultural innovations such as nutritionally enhanced crops and genetic modifications of plant varieties for greater resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses.

While not the magic bullet that can single-handedly solve all the complex problems of hunger and poverty, such technologies possess the potential to play a major role in alleviating hunger and malnutrition in emerging economies. It is therefore essential to assess the prospects of agricultural biotechnology and set up effective biosafety regulatory systems to protect consumers and the environment as well as to ensure safe access to new products and technologies developed in-country or elsewhere.

Through a series of interactive lectures, case studies and panel discussions over the intensive five days of the program, eminent faculty of academics, government policy makers, scientists and regulatory practitioners from industry will guide participants on: * Best practices in translational research, * Regulations for transgenic crop development, commercialization and GM foods, * Mechanisms for partnerships in safe and useful transgenic research and more; Contact Manisha Baji on manishab@sathguru.com


Food, Feed, and Fuel for the World: Seeds and Biotechnology

- April 27- April 28 The 2010; Ames, Iowa. http://www.ucs.iastate.edu/mnet/BIGMAP/home.html

BIGMAP Symposium - The Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products (BIGMAP) at Iowa State University (ISU) has been established to provide publicly-based assessment and communication of the risks and benefits of the products of agricultural biotechnology.