* Entrepreneurs and Eggplant
* Can Corn Be Taught to Fix Its Own Nitrogen?
* New Report: Biotech Boosts Environment
* Why Is India Shunning Safer Food?
* Bill Gates: New Science of Feeding the World
* EFSA Launches Public Consultation on Risk Assessment of GM Plants
* Bollworm In Gujarat Bt Cotton: Scientist Says Data Wrong
* More Science, Not Less
* Cotton in India - Monsanto Report
* Sustainability through Agricultural Biotechnology: Food, Biomaterials, Energy and Environment
* USDA Report on Thailand - Biotechnology
* Beyond Beijing Radio: Panel Discussion on GM Food
* Biotechnology Based Sustainable Agriculture - Recommendations from ILSI-India meet
Entrepreneurs and Eggplant
- Gurcharan Das, Wall Street Journal (Asia), March 8, 2010 http://online.wsj.com/
'A case study in how India's government is the main obstacle to economic progress.'
Risk is built into capitalism because the rewards of investment arrive in the future. Risk usually comes from the unknown responses of customers and competitors in the marketplace. But in India, the greatest uncertainty still emanates from government and its overweening regulators, despite 18 years of economic reform. If anything holds India back from realizing its true potential, it is weak institutions of governance.
Nowhere is this heartbreaking truth clearer than in the tale of Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company. Founded in 1964 by Badrinarayan Ramulal Barwale (who received the World Food Prize in 1998) Mahyco, as it is known, has done pioneering work in hybrid seeds. Today Monsanto holds a 26% stake in the company. Having produced hybrids of cotton, sorghum, sunflower and wheat, it is currently researching improvements to more than 30 crops.
The development of genetically modified eggplant, known locally as Bt Brinjal, was the latest in this string of innovations. Mahyco's scientists toiled for years to figure out how to kill the pest, Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer, which wipes out 30% to 40% of India's annual crop. Mahyco conducted 25 environmental biosafety studies supervised by independent and government agencies to ensure that its product had the same nutritional value and is compositionally identical to regular eggplant; finally, it did rigorous field trials in collaboration with two Indian agricultural universities.
In October 2009, after nine years of trials, their invention was approved by the government's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, which stated Mahyco's product is "effective in controlling target pests, safe to the environment, non-toxic as determined by toxicity and animal feeding tests, nonallergenic and has potential to benefit the farmers." Top Indian and international scientists hailed the innovation, hoping that it would open the door for further research and trials on the more popular foods like rice and wheat.
Yet on Feb. 9, Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh stopped the seed's introduction. He privileged the concerns of environmental groups, who had opposed Bt Brinjal on grounds of potential human and animal health and biodiversity. In placing an indefinite "moratorium" on the product, Mr. Ramesh adopted the precautionary principle, citing the need for more safety data and an absence of any "overriding urgency." He ignored the government's own regulatory process, the committee of distinguished scientists who had approved Bt Brinjal after nine years of intensive trials, and he undermined the trust between the citizen and the state.
It is a testimony to our argumentative democracy that the story did not end there. Mr. Ramesh's decision led to a huge outcry among India's scientists and farmers. Last month, Agricultural Minister Sharad Pawar wrote to the prime minister that biotech innovations that withstood regulatory scrutiny "should be vigorously encouraged." Any hesitation, he wrote, could hamper research in India on transgenic varieties of potato, rice, mustard, tomato, groundnut, chickpea and pigeon pea currently underway. He added: "Absence of clarity on some of these issues could jeopardize R&D not only by the private seed companies but also by public institutions."
In other words, India cannot attract investment if entrepreneurs cannot predict how the government will react. The telecommunications ministry has wavered for years on whether or not to sell 3G spectrum, and how to do it. Equally disheartening is the recent experience of private entrepreneurs in dealing with the railways ministry. Encouraged to invest in freight movement on the promise of a level playing field, they have discovered formidable hurdles placed in their way by the government's monopoly railway company. Similar stories abound in the airline industry, financial services and retail, too.
Entrepreneurs are used to risk—in fact, they seem to thrive on it. What really throws a spanner in the works of capitalism, however, is uncertainty. What's the difference? As the late great economist Frank Knight wrote in "Risk, Uncertainty and Profit," risk can be quantified using statistical analysis, yielding probabilities that guide efficient decision-making. Uncertainty, on the other hand, cannot be measured and therefore presents a true barrier to business. The capricious decisions coming out of Delhi are creating uncertainty.
Indian civilization has long understood the role of government in mitigating risk. The theme of risk even appears as far back as 2,000 years ago in the ancient Indian epic the Mahabharata, where a famous game of dice is the metaphor for the uncertain, vulnerable human life. The epic looks to the ruler and his dharma to bring predictability in the lives of human beings.
In the same way, it is the duty of governments to bring predictability into the uncertain lives of investors and business people. Entrepreneurs face more than enough insecurity in the marketplace. If India's government does not ensure a reliable regulatory environment or if allows ministers to interfere in established institutional mechanisms, who will take courageous, long-term risks? Who will invent the seed that sparks a second green revolution? No wonder investors continue to believe that authoritarian China is more investor friendly than democratic India.
Mr. Das, former CEO of Procter & Gamble India, is the author of "The Difficulty of Being Good" (Penguin, 2009) to be published in the U.S. in September by Oxford University Press.
Can Corn Be Taught to Fix Its Own Nitrogen?
URBANA – Nitrogen fertilization is essential for profitable corn production. It also is a major cost of production and can contribute to degradation of the environment. Is it possible to "teach" corn to fix its own nitrogen, thus eliminating the need for nitrogen fertilizer applications? University of Illinois agricultural engineer Kaustubh Bhalerao believes it may be, through research in an emerging area of engineering called synthetic biology.
"We now understand enough about how genes work and how proteins are produced that we can actually think about reprogramming how living cells work," said Bhalerao, an assistant professor in U of I's Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. "On one hand, it sounds intimidating. But on the other hand, there are tremendous benefits that may be possible by doing this."
Synthetic biology is a new area of research that combines science and engineering in order to design and build or "synthesize" novel biological functions and systems. Through this new technology, many scientists believe it may be possible to control biological systems to increase food supplies, produce energy, enhance human health, protect the environment, and more.
Bhalerao is leading a multidisciplinary research initiative with collaborators from the University of California, San Francisco; Stanford University; University of Cambridge; and New Castle University aimed at building systems that enable bacteria to spatially organize and communicate with and control plant cells. The research is funded through a grant of about $2 million from the U.S. National Science Foundation and United Kingdom's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Bhalerao's research focuses on building systems in which bacteria behave like amplifiers. "We've developed the equivalence of an amplifier inside bacteria. The bacteria sense the presence of an amino acid in their environment and produce a protein in response. A positive feedback mechanism in the gene circuit amplifies the production of that protein," Bhalerao said.
By using bacterial amplifiers, the systems become more sensitive. "Because of the amplifier, bacterial biosensors can detect concentrations much lower than would have been possible otherwise. In a system designed to produce a particular molecule or chemical, much larger output levels can be generated," he said.
A specific application being investigated is the design of a system that enables nitrogen fixing bacteria to communicate with the root systems of corn plants.
According to Bhalerao, soybean fixes its own nitrogen by sending a message to a bacterium that encourages it to colonize in the plant's roots. Once the right environment has developed, the bacteria start fixing nitrogen for that plant. This results in soybeans being naturally high in nitrogen and a protein-rich food source.
"Why don't we teach corn how to do this?" Bhalerao said. "This would reduce the need for the application of petroleum-based fertilizers, which has huge implications for sustainable agriculture."
Synthetic biology is a fast-growing research area with a wide range of potential applications. Scientists are using this new technology to make biosensors sensitive to light, sensitive to uranium, sensitive to rust, etc. Proven concepts in various stages of development include using bacterial sensors to build bacterial photographic plates, assist with the nuclear mining of uranium, or detect unexploded landmines in the soil.
"These are just a few potential uses that capture the mind," Bhalerao said. "This type of technology allows us to think about interesting, novel solutions to major concerns, such as how we can feed more people, or how we can produce more drinking water.
"Synthetic biology is an entirely new discipline. To compare it with electronics, where it's drawing a lot of its ideas and terminology from, we are at the stage of developing the transistor. We cannot foresee what the Internet of this technology is going to look like."
New Report: Biotech Boosts Environment
- John Walter, Agriculture Online, March 4, 2010
Biotech seeds are providing substantial environmental benefits, including reduced use of crop chemicals and lower soil erosion, according to a report released at the Commodity Classic on Thursday. The report, developed by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), examines the impact of biotechnology on the ability of farmers to improve their environmental performance.
"The adoption of biotech crops -- especially soybeans -- closely tracks the expansion of conservation tillage and no-till production," according to the report. "We were looking at how biotechnology has helped facilitate conservation tillage and no-till," said Dan Towery, author of the report. "Roundup Ready beans have helped facilitate a 68% increase in full-season soybeans," he said.
The CTIC report shows that herbicide-tolerant soybeans and cotton helped cut U.S. herbicide use by 47.4 million pounds of active ingredient in 2007, for example. Insecticide-resistant cotton and corn varieties led to reduced applications of insecticides in that year by 8.67 million pounds of active ingredient.
Conservation tillage and no-till are also credited with improving soil quality and enhancing wildlife habitat. Other benefits of reduced tillage brought about by the biotech trend include lower fuel consumption and reduced greenhouse emissions.
"The report looks at the bigger picture of what's happening," said Steve Werblow, who wrote the report, which was based on a literature review of available research. "The reduction in chemical use is staggering. The report is good news for farmers, and also for people off the farm. It shows there are far-reaching societal benefits [of biotechnology]."
Why Is India Shunning Safer Food?
- C. Kameswara Rao, Wall Street Journal (Asia), March 3, 2010 http://online.wsj.com/article
'One thing's for sure: The moratorium on genetically modified eggplant wasn't a decision based on science.'
There's a certain irony that while this week the European Union overcame over a decade of opposition to genetically modified feed, in India public policy is swinging in the other direction. And the Congress Party-led government in Delhi still isn't explaining why.
Last month, the Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, imposed a moratorium on genetically modified eggplant—known locally as Bt Brinjal—for an unspecified period of time, claiming the science wasn't yet proven. The move prompted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week to call a meeting of the Ministers of Agriculture, Science and Technology; Human Affairs; and Environment and Forests to discuss the decision.
The confab didn't shed much light on the problem. After the meeting's conclusion, Mr. Singh re-emphasized the importance of biotechnology in boosting productivity; concern about food security; and the need to establish a national biotechnology regulatory authority. He also called for a government panel, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), to ensure that GMO eggplant has no adverse effects on human and animal health and biodiversity—but didn't set a timetable for the committee to do so.
There is no scientific basis for this indecision. The safety and efficacy of so-called "Bt technology," which involves incorporation of one or two chosen genes from the universally occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, into the genome of a crop targeting the most devastating pest threatening that crop, has been investigated for repeatedly by the mandatory regulatory regimes of every one of the 25 countries that commercialized these crops in the past decade-and-a-half. Genetically modified food is widely available in the United States, and will soon be in Europe, too.
In India, Bt Brinjal was subjected to extensive agronomic and biosecurity evaluation from 2000 to 2009, as per the mandatory provisions of our national regulatory regime. About 200 scientists and experts from over 15 public- and private-sector institutions participated. The massive dossier on Bt Brinjal's biosecurity evaluation was placed in the public domain on the GEAC's Web site in November 2008. The test process and results passed through several competent authorities and were also evaluated—and passed—by two different expert government committees. Based on this evaluation, the GEAC approved Bt Brinjal for commercialization on October 14.
Mr. Ramesh's decision leaves farmers in the lurch. They lose 50-70% of their annual marketable eggplant yield to two insects—Leucinodes orbonalis and Helicoverpa armigera—which cause severe shoot and fruit damage. The damage inflicted by these pests is carried onto the next crop. The prevalent practice of very high application of synthetic pesticides does not help because the pests live deep inside the stem and fruit tissues. No eggplant variety is resistant to these pests.
Bt Brinjal fixes this problem by imparting a systemic tolerance to the shoot and fruit borers. The specific gene, called Cry1Ac, was isolated from Bacillus thuringiensis. The same gene has been incorporated into the genomes of several other crops such as cotton, corn, potato, tomato and rice, to control the most damaging pest in each case.
If anything, the Indian government should be cheering on this kind of innovation. The country's version of Bt Brinjal was developed by a public-private partnership—just the type Delhi wants to encourage. Mumbai-based Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco) obtained rights to the Cry 1Ac gene from Monsanto. Mahyco then collaborated with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University at Coimbatore and the University of Agricultural Sciences at Dharwad in Karnataka to develop the specific local Bt varieties. The company also set up similar arrangements with the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research at Varanasi, the University of Philippines, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute and a private seed company, Dhaka-based East West Seeds. The project was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and managed by Cornell University.
In spite of all this effort, Mr. Ramesh played to the activist campaign that alleged products are toxic and allergenic, harm related species, and negatively impact ecology and biodiversity—among many other false claims.
Bt Brinjal is neither toxic nor allergenic and is safe to the nontarget organisms and the environment. In fact, it greatly reduces the cultivation expenses on the use of synthetic pesticides, and thus the risk from synthetic chemicals to the farmers, consumers and the environment. It vastly enhances the marketable yield of healthy vegetables, benefiting millions of farmers and consumers.
Some members of government understand these proven facts, including members of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council and the Ministers for Agriculture, Science and Technology and Human Resources—all of whom have voiced concern in recent days.
The government's stand has created huge regulatory uncertainties for no valid scientific reason or environmental concern. No innovator can afford to develop any biotech crop with an uncertain approval process that is divorced from science. Delay in the commercialization of Bt Brinjal will promote its clandestine cultivation, as it has happened with Bt cotton in Gujarat, and elsewhere. This is not in the best interests of India, nor its people.
Mr. Rao, the former Chairman of the Department of Botany and the Department of Sericulture at Bangalore University, is Executive Secretary of the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education in Bangalore.
Bill Gates: New Science of Feeding the World
http://www.thegatesnotes.com/Learning/article.aspx?ID=117 Posted March 4, 2010
Agricultural biotechnology is controversial but essential, Bill believes, to ease the plight of the 1 billion impoverished people who live with chronic hunger. He reviews a provocative book on the realities of farming today – and its future.
While traveling last week to Antarctica, I had a chance to read a book recommended by our foundation’s agricultural development group, Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food by Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak.
This is an important book for anyone who wants to learn about the science of seeds and the challenges faced by farmers. It’s only 167 pages, and includes personal stories that give you a sense of the authors as people and how strongly they feel about farming, food and the environment. I think anyone who reads this book will be convinced of the authors’ sincerity and intelligence – even if, like me, you never try any of the cool-sounding recipes.
Whenever I read about farming, I’m reminded how tough it is. Between the weather, weeds, viruses, insects and other pests, farming is a constant struggle, always posing new challenges. A city boy like me can think of it as putting a seed in the ground and waiting for nice stuff to grow. Wrong.
Tomorrow’s Table is a real education on the many choices farmers today must make regarding seeds. It’s very good in explaining genetically engineered seed, how it’s used today (mostly to help plants fight off insects and tolerate herbicide) and how it will be used in the future (to increase disease resistance, drought tolerance, vitamin content and crop yields, for example). The book separates out clearly the issues of how to make sure new seeds are safe, how to price them and how to treat them as intellectual property.
I gained an understanding of the history of organic farming and learned about some of the very clever ways organic farmers control pests. Compared with conventional agriculture, many organic techniques can be more cost effective for poor farmers. I agree with the authors that we will need the best ideas from "organic" thinkers and from scientists – including genetic engineers – to feed the world and help the poorest.
Of course, there are more approaches available to farmers than just organic or biotech. Most of the world’s food is grown with conventional agricultural techniques such as improved seeds, fertilizer and irrigation. The trick is finding the best combination of all of these approaches.
I certainly recommend this book to people who are curious about the future of agriculture and the controversies around it. Many other food books exalt localism and tradition (i.e., lack of new science) as almost religious values. I think some go overboard with their negative views of modern farming, giving very little thought to the productivity increases that poor farmers need - and that the world needs - in order to feed itself, while coping with climate change and evolving threats from plant disease and pests.
I wish Tomorrow’s Table discussed the problem of underinvestment in agricultural research. But the authors’ personal involvement in what they do write about gives the book a note of deep sincerity. That may help get people who are skeptical or confused about new science, including biotechnology, to see that it has an important role to play.
EFSA Launches Public Consultation On Guidance For Environmental Risk Assessment of GM Plants
- European Food Safety Authority [EFSA], March 5 2010: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/gmo100305.htm
EFSA has launched a public consultation on the revised guidance of its GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) Panel for the environmental risk assessment of GM plants. EFSA provided updated guidance for assessing the impact of GM plants on the environment and held discussions with stakeholders and Member States as part of this work. Together with new, strengthened requirements in terms of data generation, collection and analysis, this guidance also contains a revised section on the evaluation of possible effects on non-target organisms. The document is the result of two years' work and demonstrates EFSA's commitment to staying at the forefront of recent developments in the field of GM plant environmental risk assessment. The public consultation will last until 30 April for a total of eight weeks.
EFSA reviewed and updated the specific areas that need to be addressed when assessing the environmental impact of a GM plant. These cover in particular the persistence and invasiveness of the GM plant, taking into account plant-to-plant gene transfer; the likelihood and consequences of gene transfer from the plant to micro-organisms; the potential evolution of resistance in target pests; the impact of the GM plant on non-target organisms; and the impact that the cultivation, management and harvesting techniques associated with the GM plant may have. Specific attention was also given to other environmental processes that may be affected by the GM plant, as well as to the impact that these may have on human and animal health.
EFSA also supplemented its guidance document with specific aspects which will need to be taken into consideration for the assessment. Detailed requirements are given for the choice of appropriate non-GM comparators (which are the non-GM plants with which the GM plant is compared during the safety evaluation) and types of receiving environments to be considered; the experimental design of laboratory and field studies, and their statistical analysis; and the consideration of possible long-term effects.
Some GM plants can produce an insecticide which wards off attacks from certain insects and it is important to ensure that they do not adversely affect other insects (the so called non-target organisms or NTOs). In the context of its work on the new guidance, the GMO Panel produced a scientific opinion on how to evaluate the impact of a GM plant on non-target organisms. The opinion defines criteria for the selection of relevant non-target species; for the identification of those aspects of the environment that need to be protected from harm; and for the experimental design of laboratory and field studies and their statistical analysis.
The revision of the guidance document was undertaken in response to a request from the European Commission. To complement this, EFSA undertook work on non-target organisms on its own initiative. Also, a series of technical discussions was organised to bring together GMO Panel experts, stakeholders and technical experts from the EU Member States to exchange views on the scientific issues and various aspects of the documents. At the end of the public consultation launched on 5 March, EFSA will publish a report with an overview of the comments received and will address the relevant comments in the final EFSA GMO Panel guidance document and related opinion on non-target organisms.
Public consultation on the draft scientific opinion on the assessment of potential impacts of genetically modified (GM) plants on non-target organisms (NTOs) http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/consultations/call/gmo100305.htmv
Bollworm In Gujarat Bt Cotton: Scientist Says Data Wrong
- Vivek Deshpande Indian Express (India), March 8, 2010
While Bt technology giant Monsanto has admitted that American pink bollworm has affected Bt cotton in four districts of Gujarat, India’s top cotton scientist says the data is basically wrong.
Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) Director Keshav Kranthi says the data provided by Monsanto is wrong and that CICR wasn’t part of any such testing.
“They have collected the surviving larvae — there would always be 10 resistant bollworm larvae out of every 10,000 — and have conducted tests on them. Such tests will always show resistance, it doesn’t mean there is across-the-board resistance to Cry1 Ac,” Kranthi told The Indian Express, adding that “I have written about it to GEAC”.
Monsanto has said in a press note that during field monitoring of the 2009 cotton crop, Gujarat Monsanto and Mahyco scientists detected unusual survival of pink bollworm to first-generation, single-protein Bollgard cotton.
More Science, Not Less
- Sujoy Gupta (Noida), Business Standard, India (Letters to the Editor) March 8, 2010
Those opposed to the Bt crop are now celebrating the news that the pests that Bt cotton was supposed to keep away have now developed a resistance to it. So, they argue, not only is the crop dangerous, it does not even do the job it is supposed to do!
Of course this is a setback, but the answer has to be more science, not less. Surely, a system which can combat one type of pest can deliver to take care of the resistance that the pests have developed. Various viruses that attack human beings develop immunity to certain antibiotics — we don’t stop taking antibiotics, we just change the ones we use, and medicine firms do more research on the subject. The same applies to Bt, nothing more, nothing less.
Cotton in India
During field monitoring of the 2009 cotton crop in the state of Gujarat in western India, Monsantoi and Mahyco scientists detected unusual survival of pink bollworm to first-generation single-protein Bollgard cotton. Testing was conducted to assess for resistance to Cry1Ac, the Bt protein in Bollgard cotton, and pink bollworm resistance to Cry1Ac was confirmed in four districts in Gujarat – Amreli, Bhavnagar, Junagarh and Rajkot. Gujarat is one of nine states in India where cotton is grown. To date, no insect resistance to Cry1Ac has been confirmed outside the four districts in Gujarat.
This has been reported to the Indian Genetic Engineering Approval Committee. Mahyco-Monsanto Biotechii in collaboration with the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) and other agricultural research institutes have been conducting field monitoring research across India since 2003, the second season of Bt cotton in India.
Single-protein Cry1Ac products continue to control bollworm pests other than pink bollworm in the four districts in Gujarat where pink bollworm resistance has been confirmed. In addition, no instance of insect resistance in any of India’s cotton growing states, including the four districts in Gujarat, has been observed with Bollgard II, the second-generation Bt cotton technology. Bollgard II, introduced in 2006, contains two proteins, Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab.
Current monitoring efforts to manage insect resistance by an Indian-expert network will be expanded. The network is led by the Director of CICR who is nominated by GEAC. The network will continue to conduct extensive insect monitoring, encourage appropriate stewardship practices such as proper refuge planting through an intensified farmer education campaign, and explore new methods of refuge seed delivery.
Resistance is natural and expected, so measures to delay resistance are important. Among the factors that may have contributed to pink bollworm resistance to the Cry1Ac protein in Gujarat are limited refuge planting and early use of unapproved Bt cotton seed, planted prior to GEAC approval of Cry1Ac cotton, which may have had lower protein expression levels.
While single-protein Cry1Ac cotton products continue to deliver value to Indian farmers, increasingly Indian farmers are planting two-protein Bollgard II cotton because it reduces the need for insecticide sprays compared to Cry1Ac products and increases yield. Over 65% of Gujarat cotton farmers chose Bollgard II cotton in 2009, and pre-season bookings indicate that over 90% of Gujarat cotton farmers are expected to plant Bollgard II in the 2010 season. Overall, approximately 80% of all Indian cotton farmers are expected to plant Bollgard II in the 2010 season.
The findings in Gujarat are an important reminder to Indian farmers. When using Bt cotton products it is essential to regularly monitor and scout fields throughout the season for insect presence and plant appropriate non-Bt refuge. Furthermore, farmers must adopt measures such as need-based application of insecticide sprays during the crop season, and properly manage crop residue and unopened bolls after harvest. Examples of such practices include tillage and cattle grazing to minimize the survival and spread of pink bollworm.
Continuous R&D and innovation to develop new value-added technologies is imperative to stay ahead of insect resistance. To support such innovation, Government policies should encourage investment in R&D which will result in Indian farmers having a wider choice of better and advanced technologies.
Monsanto is committed to developing new high performing products for farmers, and is currently working on a three-protein Bt cotton technology. Monsanto is open to collaborating with other technology providers in India to develop products that use the best available technologies for the benefit of Indian farmers.
Sustainability through Agricultural Biotechnology: Food, Biomaterials, Energy and Environment
- June 6-11, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri http://www.iapb2010.org/
The 12th World Congress of the International Association for Plant Biotechnology (IAPB) will take place in the U.S. Approximately 1,500 research scientists in plant and agricultural biotechnology from around the world are expected to attend. "Sustainability through agriculture: food, biomaterials, energy and the environment" will be a recurring theme at the conference.
As president of the IAPB, Roger Beachy, newly appointed chief scientist of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), says he hopes the conference will help influence a regulatory structure that is more science-driven. Presentations will be made by those involved with regulations, as well as those whose inventions have gone through the regulatory process. Calestous Juma at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in the U.S. agrees and adds that the regulatory process is an international issue.
"Africa needs to establish region-wide regulatory measures covering groups of countries that are effective, transparent, and efficient, and based on the co-evolutionary approach of promoting innovation, while protecting the public," says Juma. The press release says that the IAPB is the largest membership organization dedicated to caring for and supporting plant tissue culture and biotechnology around the world. The conference website is available at the link below.
USDA Report on Thailand - Biotechnology
- USDA - FAS (Foreign Agricultural Service) February 23, 2010 http://www.fas.usda.gov/ (via http://www.seedquest.com/)
TH0034. Policy development in the area of agricultural biotechnology is proceeding slowly. A draft of biosafety law and final draft field trial procedure guidelines remain under review. A recently government-appointed environmental task force has proposed to include biotechnology along with a series of industrial projects, as activity posing potential danger to the community’s well-being. This situation has created concern among biotech stakeholders who are attempting to overturn this proposal.
Biosafety Law: A draft of the biosafety law remains under review by the Office of the Council of State. Representatives from Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP), Department of Agriculture (DOA) and National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC) are providing additional information and comments as needed. According to a DOA senior expert on agricultural biotechnology, the Council is now reviewing the second-round final draft. The final draft will be submitted to the Cabinet after the third-round review. The law should be endorsed by the end 2010. Biosafety legislation has been under review by the Office of the Council of State since the Cabinet approved the draft Biosafety Law in principle in January 2008. See GAIN reports TH8144 "Status of the Thai Biosafety Law", and TH9111 "Agricultural Biotechnology Annual".
Field Trial Procedures: Final draft field trial procedure guidelines are under review by DOA and BIOTEC. Dr. Banpot Napompetch, the advisor to the Biosafety Law Committee at DOA, is presently preparing field trial guidelines on papaya and tomatoes. A draft could be ready in March and is expected to be submitted to the Ag Minister prior to submission to the Cabinet for final approval. A decision to proceed with developing field trial procedures was made by the Cabinet in December 2007. See GAIN report TH8003, "Cabinet to Allow Biotech Field Trials with Restrictive Measures".
Task Force on the Environment: A government-appointed special-task committee on the environment has been formed. The committee has proposed that industrial projects or activities that intend to use biotechnology should be included in a list that classifies this type of project as potentially dangerous to a community’s environmental quality, its natural resources, and public health. Projects on the list could be disqualified from being operational if a proposed regulation, containing the aforementioned stipulation, is submitted to the Cabinet for approval. BIOTEC and biotechnology researchers are concerned that this regulation would be another barrier to adopting agricultural biotechnology in Thailand. In response, BIOTEC has officially opposed the move.
Beyond Beijing Radio: Panel Discussion on GM Food
Listen at http://english.cri.cn/8706/2010/03/05/481s554356.htm
It has been described as the agricultural silver bullet that will feed the world and save the environment - and it's been described as Frankenstein Food. The controversy over GM - Genetically Modified crops rages on, but how much of it is already out there? Are you eating it now? And do you know?
Jay Weinstein, Author of "The Ethical Gourmet"
Lorena Luo, Greenpeace Senior Campaigner-Food and Agriculture Program
C.S. Prakash, Professor in Plant Molecular Genetics and Director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University
Biotechnology Based Sustainable Agriculture - Recommendations: International Life Sciences Institute India (ILSI-India)
ILSI-India and ILSI International Food Biotechnology Committee organized the International Conference on “Biotechnology Based Sustainable Agriculture” on December 19, 2009 in New Delhi. The Conference was cosponsored by Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, GOI and Indian Council of Agricultural Research. About 130 participants from Government, academia and industry attended the Conference. Eighteen leading national and international experts addressed the Technical Sessions of the Conference
The Background : Indian agriculture is at crossroads. The Green Revolution had reached a plateau at the beginning of this decade. Food grains production has since been increasing at nearly the same rate as the growth of population. The green revolution relied mainly on irrigation, fertilizers and hybrid varieties of seeds. After-effects of green revolution have been mining of nutrients from soils, lowering water table, developing salinity and creating soil, water and atmospheric pollution. Further expansion of irrigation is not easy and more intensive use of fertilizers will not give commensurate results.
With low growth of production, India may become a net importer of food grains from net exporter it was a few years back. To ensure food and nutrition security it is therefore important to look at new options, principally new technology, which are beneficial to farmers and acceptable to consumers. There are many effective and sustainable technology options available to enhance agricultural growth. Conservation agriculture is one practical method consisting of laser leveling, use of zero-till, ferti-seeds drill, timely use of herbicide and field and farm residue management. Conservation agriculture has been favored in many countries but its commercialization is rather limited.
Why Biotechnology? An effective option is bio-technology application to agriculture. What is important is to develop varieties that are stress tolerant, apart from herbicide tolerance and insect resistance which are already in use. The former are important considering the limitation of land and water resources. There are also non-transgenic bio-tech approaches for enhancing conventional farming like marker assisted selection as also other genomic technologies. Biotechnology applications will enable: • Improvement in productivity.
• Reduction in costs. • Enrichment of nutrition content of crops. • Extension of shelf life of products.
There are still concerns about the use of transgenics. It is therefore important to have an efficient regulatory framework to ensure safety of GM foods. Codex has recommended “substantial equivalence” as criteria to ensure safety.
The Recommendations: On the basis of the presentations and subsequent discussions, the Conference made the following recommendations:-
1. Government, industry and academic institutions must invest adequately in agricultural bio-technologies through capacity building with emphasis on education, training and research.
2. Tissue culture micropropagation is a simple and cost effective technology which has not been adequately utilized and should be extensively used for mass seed production of crops likes potato, banana, mentha, sugarcane, ornamental and medicinal plants.
3. Transgenic technology holds significant promise for developing crop varieties possessing resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses. This technology has made a beginning with cotton and should be extended to other crops. which possesses’ tremendous potential for precision gene transfer and should be effectively used for improving various agronomic traits and crop productivity.
4. DNA marker technology such as marker assisted selection (MAS) possesses tremendous potential for precision gene transfer and should be effectively used for improving various agronomic traits and crop productivity.
5. The “Guidelines for the Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Genetically Engineered Plants” and the associated “Protocols for Food and Feed Safety Assessment of GE Crops” approved by RCGM and GEAC in 2008 follow internationally accepted standards and are adequate to address human food and livestock feed safety assessment.
6. GM foods currently available on the international market have passed rigorous safety assessments and, to date, no adverse effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.
7. Risk communication is often overlooked as an essential element of risk analysis. The Government of India should consider establishing a biotechnology risk communication cell so that the regulation of GM crops and foods and related decisions can be more effectively communicated to stakeholders and the public.
8. The government should seek to enhance societal confidence in biotechnology through public understanding of the safety and regulations of agriculture biotechnology by launching comprehensive outreach programs aimed at the public as well as other stakeholders including policy makers, media, and NGO’s.