* U.S. Judge Allows Genetically Engineered Beet Harvest
* Genetically Modified Foods Get U.S. Traction, Global Debate
* Feeding the World: Panel of Renowned Experts Discusses Biotech Options
* Technology is Improving Yield and Pest Management
* Feeding the Propaganda of Anti-Technology Activists
* Is Bill Gates a Menace to Poor Farmers?
* Biotech Crops In India: Politics Throttling Science
* Sustainability Through Agricultural Biotechnology - IAPB Meet in St. Louis
Judge Allows Genetically Engineered Beet Harvest
- Paul Elias, The Associated Press, March 16, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge on Tuesday said farmers can harvest their genetically engineered sugar beets this year, ruling the economic impact too great and that environmental groups waited too long to request that the crop be yanked from the ground and otherwise barred from the market. Nearly all sugar beets planted are genetically engineered and the crop accounts for half the nation's sugar supply.
U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White last year sided with the environmental groups when he ruled that federal regulators five years ago improperly approved the genetically engineered crop for market. White said in September that further environmental studies are required before the United States Department of Agriculture can decide the issue but didn't decide the next legal steps.
In January, the Center for Food Safety, Earthjustice and several other groups and organic farmers asked White to immediately halt the planting and harvest of all genetically engineered beets while determining how to resolve the lawsuit, which was filed in 2007.
The groups sued the USDA over its approval, and the biotech company Monsanto Co., which develops genetically engineered seeds, joined the lawsuit on the government's side. The groups and organic farmers fear the biotech beets will cross-pollinate with conventional beets, as well as Swiss chard, and upset consumers who shun genetically engineered products.
In denying their request, White noted that the Center for Food Safety and the other groups who sued had ample opportunity to make such a request and he chastised them for waiting until this year to act. The judge said it appears most of the genetically engineered seeds have already been planted and it would be too disruptive to order their removal from the fields. "This ruling provides clarity that farmers can plant Roundup Ready sugarbeets in 2010," said Steve Welker, Monsanto's sugarbeet business manager.
The judge also said such an order would cause an economic catastrophe — 95 percent of sugar beets are genetically engineered with a bacteria gene to withstand sprayings of Monsanto popular weed killer Roundup. Half the nation's sugar supply is derived from beets and a Monsanto expert testified that 5,800 jobs and $283.6 million in growers' profits would be lost if he shut down the market, which stretches across 1 million acres in 10 states.
"Moreover, an injunction which would ban the planting and processing of genetically engineered sugar beets in 2010 would have a large detrimental impact on the United States' domestic sugar supply and price," White said in his eight-page ruling.
Now the battle turns to whether the judge will bar future plantings of genetically engineered seeds while a new Monsanto application is pending before the USDA.
The judge said he wanted farmers to use as much conventional seed as possible but didn't say if he would bar the biotech variety.
Genetically Modified Foods Get U.S. Traction, Global Debate
- Elizabeth Weise, USA Today, March 16, 2010
For more than a decade, two opposing views of the technology used for genetically engineering crops have fought for the hearts and minds of the world's farmers. At best, they've come to a standoff.
The technology allows scientists to genetically manipulate common crops such as corn, cotton and soybeans, inserting traits that, in one case, lets farmers spray weed killer without hurting the crop and, in other instances, fight off insects. The effort has been embraced by some as a way to better feed a world population that's soaring, but others raise the specter of "Frankenfood," whose long-term effect on human and environmental health has never been adequately studied.
Count the Europeans in the latter group. They've largely rejected genetically modified crops on the grounds they pose potential ecological and health nightmares.
Meanwhile in North America, and increasingly in South America, farmers embrace them, arguing they protect the environment by decreasing pesticide use and making no-till crops (where the soil is not plowed) possible. This increases water retention and decreases erosion, and at least by some measures reduces carbon released into the atmosphere.
But now, like a global tug of war, that standoff may be starting to shift in favor of biotech supporters. In an announcement that drew little attention in November, China said it had approved biotech rice and corn varieties, which some believe could be the beginning of a broader acceptance of the 16-year-old technology.
That's disturbing to groups like Friends of the Earth, which opposes genetically engineered crops and fights them in both the USA and Europe. "China most definitely will have an influence in the future of agriculture and trade. They grow an incredible amount of food and fiber, and the more they embrace this technology, the more it's going to be used," says Eric Hoffman, the group's genetic engineering policy campaigner in Washington, D.C. "There's potential for China shifting the balance away from the movement that Europe is creating to stop these technologies."
China's move could be mitigated in part by India's decision in February to reject a newly approved eggplant variety genetically engineered to produce its own insecticide. But the struggle is still on to win over the largely undecided portions of the globe: Africa and Asia.
Whatever governments are doing, a report out last month shows that worldwide, these crops are being adopted at a blistering rate, jumping 7% last year, an increase of 22.2 million acres. That's not bad for a technology targeting farmers, a generally conservative group when it comes to innovation, says Clive James of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Application (ISAAA), which is financed by the biotech industry.
"Farmers are smart people," says Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit group in Washington, D.C., that tracks biotechnology but is neutral on its use. "They wouldn't continue to grow these over the years if in fact they weren't beneficial to them."
U.S. farmers certainly think so. By last year, biotech crops accounted for 85% to 95% of some key crops, including soybeans and cotton, the ISAAA says. Another reason there's little concern in North America is that almost all those crops are either fed only to animals (soy and feed corn), used for fiber (cotton) or are so processed that the genetically engineered proteins are no longer present (sugar beets and high-fructose corn syrup). An attempt to introduce genetically engineered wheat in 2004 failed because growers were afraid it would hurt export prices.
The 'precautionary principle'
Opponents, including Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, say that the crops do little for consumers and that conventional breeding techniques are just as powerful.
Because the technology involves introducing genes from one plant or bacteria into another in combinations not found in nature, many believe it can never be proven entirely safe. They think science should operate on the "precautionary principle" that if something can't be proven to be 100% safe long term, it shouldn't be used. And they feel long-term research hasn't been done. "There really haven't been enough studies on the health effects of humans," Hoffman says.
Others argue that dozens of scientifically valid studies have found no human or animal health effects from crops resistant to herbicides and others grown to produce their own pesticide — a natural soil bacteria known as Bt. Jaffe believes "for the current crops that are grown throughout the world, there's a lot of data that show those crops are very safe to eat and safe for the environment. The more they're grown and the longer they're grown without a problem surfacing, (the more it) supports the people who said there wasn't a problem."
But for some, no amount of scientific proof would make them comfortable. "There are still some people who refuse to give vaccines to their children, yet they've been tried and tested and they're beneficial and safe," Jaffe says. The public-interest science center's goal is to move away from emotions and see that governments make "science-based decisions."
Worldwide, biologically engineered crops continue to be embraced in both developed and developing nations. Last year, 330 million acres of biotech crops were planted in 25 countries, the ISAAA says. The largest increases were in the developing world. Internationally, the USA is the biggest adopter, growing 158 million acres.
In Europe, however, the trend is reversed. Of 26 European Union countries, only six plant the one genetically modified, or GM, crop accepted there: insect-resistant corn. Germany discontinued GM planting in 2008.
Supporters of the technology want opponents to get real. With Earth's population expected to peak at 9 billion by 2050, from 6.8 billion today, humanity can't afford to give up any tools that might make agriculture more efficient, says Carl Pray, a professor of agricultural economics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
"We are going to have to produce more food, and we're going to have to produce it more efficiently in the sense that we have water and land constraints and environmental concerns about not cutting down and burning all of the rain forest," Pray says. Biotech can be a tool in achieving that, he believes. Biggest on the list are the anticipated arrival of drought-tolerant biotech corn in the USA in 2012 and in sub-Saharan Africa in 2017, the ISAAA's James says.
The emergence of China
Europe's opposition may be less significant in the future. China is now "the biggest investor in public biotech crop research in the world," says Guillaume Gruère, an agricultural economist with the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C.
China also will be the first country where a major staple food of humans, in this case rice, will be genetically engineered with the Bt gene to resist the rice stem borer. Its other newly approved crop is corn that contains an enzyme that makes pigs better able to digest the nutrient phosphorus, which decreases the phosphorus they excrete in their manure. Phosphorus is a major polluter of waterways.
China also changes the debate because one argument against bioengineered crops has been that they are primarily owned and sold by large, multinational companies that don't have the interests of farmers, society or the environment at heart. "We can't just let these corporations make huge profit at the expense of public health and environmental health and biodiversity," says Friends of the Earth's Hoffman.
But in Asia, "for the most part, it's not companies that are doing it. It's coming out of the public sector, and that's really going to change the landscape," says Peggy Lemaux, a microbial biologist at the University of California-Berkeley, who is involved in genetic engineering of crops suitable for developing countries.
When China begins to grow genetically modified rice, "it will have a huge impact, at least in Asia," Gruère says. "Other Asian countries will say, 'They're growing it, they're eating it, they have less pesticide use. Maybe we should, too.' "
Feeding the World: Panel of Renowned Experts Discusses Biotech Options
- Biotech Now E-Newsletter, March 12, 2010 http://biotech-now.org
As the population spirals upward, scientists and policymakers seek ways to both increase research and improve public understanding of agricultural biotechnology’s potential contributions to feeding the world.
Why does the world embrace biomedical technologies but tend to fear advancements in agricultural biotechnology?
That was one of the questions that came to the forefront when a panel of eminent scientists and policy experts met at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., during a historic blizzard in February to discuss solutions to the growing global food crisis.
Panelist Gale Buchanan, former dean of the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said the public’s fear of innovation in agriculture is understandable, given that every major agricultural advancement has been hotly debated.
“People complained that tractors would damage the soil, they had issues with hybrid seed corn, and pesticides have also been very controversial,” Buchanan said. “Why are we surprised when every innovation in agriculture has been of questionable use?”
The panel discussion, “Now Serving 9 Billion: A Global Dialogue on Meeting Food Needs for the Next Generation,” was conducted as a town hall and moderated by journalist and George Washington University professor Frank Sesno. As many as 50,000 participants from more than 30 countries and four continents joined in, sending questions to panelists via e-mail, Twitter and YouTube.
More Mouths, Less Land
Panelists and audience members grappled with the weighty topic of feeding an ever-expanding population. The United Nations predicts there will be 1.7 billion more mouths to feed by 2030 in Africa and Asia alone. The world’s population is exploding at a time when the ratio of available farmland to population is steadily declining, which means that the world must produce more food on less land.
Much of the discussion centered around hunger in Africa and East Asia, as well as the ability of large population centers in Brazil, China and India to feed themselves.
The panel also included Nina V. Fedoroff, science and technology adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Robert Paarlberg of Wellesley College; Calestous Juma of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; and Mark Cantley, former head of the biotechnology unit at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. All agreed that the world looks to the United States for leadership.
“We need to help the rest of the world design science-based regulations,” said Fedoroff. “We also need to focus more on education; for example, 20 years ago we educated thousands of African students here in the United States, but today the number is less than 1,000.”
The Kennedy School’s Juma said some nations, including some in East Africa, are taking it upon themselves to educate their citizens. “While we’re not getting much help from the developed nations, we’re seeing a new generation of universities embedded into the Ministry of Agriculture,” he explained.
Wellesley College’s Paarlberg said another major issue in Africa is that there is an absence of modern agricultural technology.
“Most small farmers have no access to improved seeds, nitrogen fertilizers or irrigation infrastructure,” he said. “They are stuck with technology that produces about one-tenth of what a farmer would produce in a developed nation, which means the people live on one dollar a day and one-third of the population is chronically malnourished.”
Paarlberg also pointed out that since 1980, U.S. assistance to agricultural development in Africa has declined 85 percent, and assistance to agricultural research has dropped 75 percent.
“While I want stronger speeches from the politicians, I also want stronger action,” he said. “The reality is that we can’t feed 9 billion people without technology.”
Technology is Improving Yield and Pest Management
- Ron Smith, SouthWest Farm Press, March 17, 2010
Ask just about any farmer about recent improvements in crop yields and his top five list of contributing factors will include better varieties.
“Agricultural production has always advanced by improving seed,” says Jurg Blumenthal, Texas AgriLife Extension corn and grain sorghum specialist. “We went from Indian corn to improved varieties and to hybrids after World War II,” Blumenthal said during the Blackland Income Growth (B.I.G.) Conference in Waco. “Then we went to genetically modified technology.”
He said those advances have improved yield potential and protected crops against losses from insects, diseases and environmental stresses. “More than 80 percent of our major crops are GMO,” he said, “but we still see controversy, especially in Europe and Japan with export limits. The consensus in the United States is that biotechnology benefits the environment.”
He said Texas has not been able to take advantage of all the yield enhancements from biotechnology that other areas, especially the Midwest, have enjoyed. “We’ve not been able to keep up with the grain yield. Yields have been stagnant, primarily because of drought." But technology to deal with environmental stresses may be coming. He said research and breeding programs are identifying native strains and genetic opportunities to develop more drought tolerant corn varieties.
Blumenthal said three companies, Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta, are looking at “newer and stronger toxins and a broader spectrum of insect control” in biotech grains. He said target pests may include armyworms among others. He also expects more stacked technologies with hybrids including herbicide tolerance and control of several insect pests. He said an eight-way stack may be available soon.
With new technology, he said, comes new management challenges. “Growers must be aware of refuge requirements with Bt corn,” he said. “They also need to know the different refuge requirements for underground pest refuge and above ground pests.” He said some companies may soon offer “refuge in the bag,” with 2 percent to 5 percent of the seed non-biotech. “It’s not registered yet.” That technology would be for rootworm. “Growers would still need a 20 percent refuge for corn borer technology.”
Blumenthal said aflatoxin remains a serious threat to Texas corn production. “It’s hard to deal with. Researchers are breeding for resistance but that is far away.”
Biotechnology may provide some help. “In Bt versus non Bt trials in more advanced corn lines we should see less aflatoxin contamination in the Bt hybrids,” he said. “Traits prevent insect feeding and breaking kernels, where aflatoxin infects.”
He said drought tolerant corn offers promise with a 6 percent to 10 percent yield increase expected in the Western Great Plains. “I think the value will be better in Texas than for western Kansas or western Nebraska, areas that are more arid and with more evapotranspiration.”
Drought tolerant trials have identified two possibilities, native traits and transgenic lines. “We have lines with the native trait in the pipeline. Something may be available in 2011. We’re five to seven years away from a transgenic hybrid.”
Blumenthal said the drought tolerance goal is to develop lines that lose less water per unit of biomass produced. He said biotech corn has already made some inroads. “These hybrids have better root systems so they extract more water and nutrients from the soil. Improving nitrogen use efficiency may offer a 5 percent to 10 percent yield boost. We get a yield increase by boosting key genes,” he said. Technology also will improve herbicide tolerance for grain sorghum. “We’re using grain sorghum check-off dollars to support herbicide tolerance research."
Currently, efforts include both non-GMO and transgenic work. The non-GMO efforts include screening wild sorghums for natural tolerance to ALS and ACC herbicides. Blumenthal said researchers are also looking at improved forage sorghums for both bioenergy production and forage. Brown mid-rib (BMR) sorghums show promise for both. The BMR lines are sorghum/Sudan hybrids and offer better digestibility, feed value and palatability. He said yield compares to corn. “In grazing trials cattle preferred BMR to conventional sorghums and produced higher daily gains.”
Blumenthal said other research efforts include studies into grain and plant color. Improving grain for poultry use would “expand feeding opportunities.” He said the food market for grain sorghum is also expanding. “It’s an exciting time for corn and grain sorghum, especially with better root systems for corn and new options for grain sorghum weed control.”
Feeding the Propaganda of Anti-Technology Activists
- Henry Miller, Wall Street Journal (Letters), March 17, 2010
Peter Berkowitz is right to condemn abuses in the peer-review process ("Climategate Was an Academic Disaster Waiting to Happen," op-ed, March 13 ), many of which reflect the biases of both articles' referees and journal editors. It is not uncommon to find egregiously, obviously flawed articles in prominent international scientific publications. As in Climategate, if the articles have policy implications, misinformation is quickly and widely propagated and feeds the propagandizing by opportunistic, anti-technology activists.
Some of the worst of these flawed papers have conveyed false alarms about the safety of gene-spliced (or "genetically engineered") plants, which subsequently have been extensively reported in the popular press.
A case in point is a 2001 paper in the British journal Nature that purported to show that genes from a pest-resistant, genetically engineered variety of corn had migrated into native corn plants in Mexico. However, colleagues of the authors had pointed out flaws in the methodology and results months before the article was submitted to the journal. The publication triggered criticism from major research groups that was published subsequently in Nature and eventually the original paper was condemned by the editor in chief. (Ironically, even if the results were accurate, the appropriate response would be, "So what.")
Another example of apparent bias appeared in an article in the British medical journal The Lancet which claimed to show that introducing into potatoes a gene that codes for a substance toxic to insects caused damage to the immune system and stimulated abnormal cell division in the digestive tract of laboratory rats. However, many research groups have shown that the experiments' research methodology was fundamentally flawed and that no conclusions about the safety of biotech foods can be drawn from them. After an extensive review, the British Royal Society unequivocally condemned the study.
The editors of the journal remonstrated that in spite of the article's admittedly deficient methodology—and over the strenuous objections of the paper's referees—they published it to "make constructive progress in the debate between scientists, the media, and the general public" about a very politically charged issue. Unleashing such a sham has proved to be anything but constructive, because its findings are frequently cited as presumptive validation of its spurious conclusions.
These kinds of failures of peer review and editorial judgment corrupt the traditional process by which new scientific knowledge is obtained and reported, and they inflict irreparable harm on the reporting and archiving of scientific developments for policy makers, the media, the public and the scientific community.
Henry I. Miller, M.D., The Hoover Institution, Stanford, Calif.
Is Bill Gates a Menace to Poor Farmers?
- Sid's Blog - Siddhartha Shome February 19, 2009
Question: What is the "greatest threat to farmers in the developing world"? Is it (a) grinding poverty, or (b) global warming, or (c) low farm productivity, or (d) drought?
Well, according to noted environmentalist icon, Vandana Shiva, it is none of the above. Addressing a recent conference of the Slow Food Movement in San Francisco, Shiva claimed that the "greatest threat to farmers in the developing world" was none other than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Yes, Microsoft founder Bill Gates' Gates Foundation. The reason for such ire? Apparently, it is because the Gates Foundation has committed the sin of attempting to fight poverty in Africa through technological transformation. Through the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the Gates Foundation has sought to increase agricultural productivity in Africa through technology. This, some environmentalists believe in their infinite wisdom, represents the "greatest threat to farmers in the developing world"
The Green Revolution
In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, there took place a transformation in agriculture in many developing countries in Asia and Latin America (but largely bypassed Africa). New High Yielding Varieties (HYV) of seeds suited for local conditions were developed, and these, accompanied by other technological and infrastructural inputs like chemical fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation systems, yielded huge increases in food production, thereby staving off the Malthusian specter of widespread famine caused by a growing population outstripping food supply.
Good or Bad?
For many years the Green Revolution was seen as a spectacular success by much of the world. One of its pioneers, the American scientist Norman Borlaug, became a household name in many developing countries and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize (though he remains largely unknown in his own country).
In recent decades, the Green Revolution has come under increasing criticism from environmentalists for its heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Some environmentalists go so far as to describe the Green Revolution as an unmitigated disaster.
I feel that the environmentalist critique of the Green Revolution is unduly harsh. For all its faults, the Green Revolution was largely successful in staving off widespread hunger and famine in many parts of the world. Perhaps the Green Revolution was a victim of its own success. It has been so successful that an entire generation has grown up for whom large-scale famine is unthinkable, almost unimaginable, and who are hence not able to fully appreciate what the Green Revolution has achieved.
Environmentalists who call for reversing the Green Revolution and reverting to the the "purity" of traditional agricultural technologies and traditional economic systems are guilty of severely downplaying the human cost of putting brakes on development and progress.
Consider the following.
* In the last sixty years, India's population has grown three-fold. Fortunately, thanks to the Green Revolution, food production has more than kept pace, growing four-fold.
* It has been estimated that had the Green Revolution not occurred and high-yield farming not been introduced, India would have had to farm an additional 100 million acres of virgin land (an area the size of California) just to keep pace with its growing population. Thus the Green Revolution was responsible for preventing an environmental disaster of massive proportions.
* To give some idea of the sheer desperation and humiliation associated with large scale food shortages in pre Green Revolution India, here is a quote from Indian agriculture minister C. Subramaniam, during a food crisis in the 1960s: "As a last resort, I told my officials and experts to identify the nearest food carrying ships on the ocean throughout the world. I said we would identify the nearest ships carrying wheat to other countries and appeal to the US President to divert it to India if other countries could wait for another six to eight weeks."
The Answer Lies in Leapfrog Technologies
I consider the Green Revolution a positive development, one of mankind's greatest achievements. However, I do realize that it has indeed been accompanied by certain harmful side effects, such as increased use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and greater need for irrigation systems.
In Africa (which has remained largely untouched by the Green Revolution until now), the solution does not lie in blindly adopting of 1960s era chemical and energy intensive agriculture. Nor does redemption lie in completely repudiating the Green Revolution. What is needed in Africa is Green Revolution 2.0: a new Green Revolution driven by new and innovative leapfrog technologies that avoid some of the worst negative side-effects of Green Revolution 1.0, but still increases farm yields very substantially, using seeds and other inputs that are economically competitive.
One leapfrog technology that could play a prominent role in Africa's Green Revolution 2.0 is Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). It may be possible to use GMO technology to leapfrog over the chemical and energy intensive agriculture of Green Revolution 1.0 and usher in a much more environmentally friendly Green Revolution 2.0 in Africa.
Developing countries are particularly receptive to leapfrog technologies. Here new technologies don't have to compete against established technologies with their preexisting infrastructure. Perhaps the most prominent example of a leapfrog technology being adopted in developing countries is cell-phone technology. Millions of people in developing countries have gone from no-phone technology directly to cell-phone technology, leapfrogging over land-line-phone technology. Similarly, millions have gone from pen-and-paper technology to computer technology, completely leapfrogging over typewriter technology, not only in developing countries, but also in some developed countries like Japan.
Opportunity for America
It is American investment and innovation over many years in the emerging technologies of yesterday (which are the mainstream technologies of today) be it in agriculture, or computers, or aviation, that has given the United States an economic and technological lead in today's world.
Similarly, American in investment and innovation in emerging technologies today - technologies that are likely to become tomorrow's leapfrog technologies in many parts of the developing world - will ensure that American technological leadership in the world remains intact, and these new technologies will serve as engines of economic growth for the coming decades, in America and across the world.
Note: I wrote this essay for the Breakthrough Institute Blog. This first appeared here. The Breakthrough Institute, founded by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, is a progressive think tank focusing on environmental issues.
Biotech Crops In India: Politics Throttling Science
- C Kameswara Rao, AgBioView, March 17, 2010 http://www.agbioworld.org
The article by Ms. Vandana Shiva - ‘Democratic Choice’ in Deccan Herald (March 11) http://www.deccanherald.com/content/57379/democratic-choice.html denigrated modern agribiotech and projected gene ecology, epigenetics and agroecology, as superior scientific imperatives for the future of agriculture, though these are no near to be called technologies.
Both the innovative, elegant and complex science of biotech and the comprehensive and rigorous biosecurity regime behind approval of biotech products, are a hard nut to the critics who win their day through repeated misinformation and disinformation, fomenting mob frenzy, by adopting Goebbels’s propaganda principles and Nikita Khrushchev’s tactics in the UN General Assembly, all in the name of democratic imperative.
No technology is beneficial to the developers and promoters unless it is beneficial to the society. Farmers have opted for Bt cotton only because it is profitable.
Agribiotech is opposed as it is considered as the exclusive domain of the MNCs. About 60 of 80 transgenic traits in over 30 crops being developed in India are in the public or autonomous institutions. Some varieties of Bt brinjal were developed in a private-public partnership. Private sector is conspicuous in the biotech scene, because the public sector has no resources to meet with the enormous financial costs of over regulation.
Both biotech and its biosecurity regulatory regime are sophisticated and complex areas, needing the collaborative efforts of several experts from diverse scientific and technological disciplines. Yet activists proclaim that biotechnologists do not have the expertise in multiple disciplines needed for risk assessment of biotech products. Starting with the Asilomar conference in 1975, it was the scientists and product developers, not the activists, who worked for a biosecurity regulatory regime to assure the public on the efficacy and safety of biotech products but ended up with mandatory regulatory monsters that entail enormous financial and time costs the world over. Activist groups mix up biosecurity issues with political, economic, societal and ethical issues, to foment public concern.
Genetic engineering uses bacterial plasmids (rings of extrachormosomal DNA) as gene vectors. The plasmids in two species of Agrobacterium cause tumors or proliferated root hair development only in a few species of plants. In animals and humans, plasmids of even pathogenic bacteria, may only aid pathogenesis. Neither the plasmids nor the promoters of gene action taken from viruses are pathogenic by themselves.
It is argued that selectable antibiotic resistance marker genes (ARMGs) used in biotechnology would be taken up by soil pathogens making them resistant to the antibiotics, and people infected by them cannot be cured by those antibiotics. In April 2007, a peer reviewed article in Transgenic Research asserted that there is no scientific basis to argue against the use and presence of ARMGs in transgenic plants. On June 11, 2009, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that, adverse effects on human health and the environment resulting from the transfer of the ARMGs nptII and aadA, from GM plants to bacteria, are unlikely. The GMO and Bio-hazard panels of the European Union observed that transfers of ARMGs from GM plants to bacteria have not been demonstrated either in natural conditions or in the laboratory, although the genes nptII and aadA resistant to kanamycin, neomycin and streptomycin are naturally present in all environments.
So far there is no evidence that genetic engineering disrupts the metabolism and
self-regulatory processes in transgenic organisms through altered epigenetic mechanisms.
All biotech research experience since 1983, and over 14 years of experience in biosecurity regulation and commercial cultivation in over 25 countries demonstrated that biotech crops are effective and safe for use. Over 350 million Americans have been consuming biotech foods for 14 years without untoward effects. No conventional product, food or medicine, has a record of such prolonged and rigorous efficacy and safety evaluation.
During 2000-2009 Bt brinjal involved some 200 scientists and technologists from over 15 public and private sector research institutions in evaluating for product efficacy and biosecurity, a process supervised by regulatory authorities and reviewed by two Expert Committees. The second Expert Committee opined that Bt brinjal is safe for consumption and that no further tests are needed, basing on which the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved Bt brinjal for commercialization, but put it up to the Minister of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for final decision, which was wholly unnecessary. Bowing to activist pressure the MoEF opted for noisy public consultations and finally imposed a moratorium on Bt brinjal for an unspecified period. Some, such as the members of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council and the Ministers for Agriculture, Science and Technology and Human Resources, who appreciate the sound science and the regulatory process behind Bt brinjal have voiced their concern on the MoEF’s moratorium.
The excessive use of pesticides by the farmers, against all advice, has built up resistance in the pests, harmed non-target organisms, left residues in the food and contaminated soil and water. A technology that contains these problems is very much needed in India. Bt technology, not as a single silver bullet, but as an important component of Integrated Pest Management programmes, is the best option we now have. The much advertised case of a government project in Andhra Pradesh for non-pesticide management involves one crop, the hot chillies, in a small area. Neither this nor the romanticized movement of organic cultivation is hardly a model for all the crops all over the country.
Indian biologists and agricultural scientists are competent enough not to need lessons on the multiple effects of genes or that many traits depend on multiple genes, or in gene ecology, epigenetics and agroecology, from anyone.
Scientists and companies are charged with ‘conflict of interest’ and ‘vested interest’ which apply more aptly to the activists whose work benefits only the pesticide lobby, organic lobby, and non-biotech seed developers. Many activist groups are MNCs, registered with the European Union as political lobbyists to promote in other countries through local NGOs, EU’s ideology based on political compulsions.
Biotech crops are the best of scientific options available today. Romantic and utopian ideas paraded as science projected from back yard performances will throw the country into a food crisis.
Certainly, in a democracy people’s educated choice must count, but a vocal minority cannot dictate what the others should or should not have. Both the farmers and the consumers have the right to choose biotech products.
A country’s science policy should be framed by its scientific fraternity and managed jointly by the relevant scientific institutions and the appropriate departments of the Government, without political interference. The mandate for biosecurity evaluation and to permit commercialization of biotech products legally rests with the GEAC, but was usurped by the MoEF, under the guise of democratic imperative, risking the future of the country.
Prof. Rao is at Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India - firstname.lastname@example.org
Sustainability Through Agricultural Biotechnology: Food, Biomaterials, Energy and Environment to be Recurring Theme at IAPB 12th World Congress
March 3, 2010 – St. Louis, MO – The full schedule of approximately 60 plenary and keynote lectures to be presented at the 12th World Congress of the International Association for Plant Biotechnology (IAPB), June 6-11, 2010, at the America’s Center in downtown, St. Louis, Missouri, is now available online at http://www.iapb2010.org. Reservations to attend the Congress also can be made through the Website.
Presented by IAPB, the largest membership organization dedicated to caring for and supporting plant tissue culture and biotechnology around the world, the Congress is being held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Society for In Vitro Biology (SIVB).
With an emphasis on the fundamental and applied aspects of sustainability through agriculture, topics will focus on food, biomaterials, energy and the environment. Approximately 1,500 research scientists in plant and agricultural biotechnology from around the world will attend.
As President of IAPB, Dr. 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) in Washington, hopes the program 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.
Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government’s Dr. Calestous Juma agrees and adds that the regulatory process is an international issue. Dr. Juma is Professor of the Practice of International Development; Director, Science, Technology, and Globalization Project; and Principal Investigator, Agricultural Innovation in Africa. “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,” said Dr. Juma.
Presentations will cover the following:
∑ Climate change and its effects on agriculture
∑ Advances in plant science: tolerance to heat, drought, insects and diseases
∑ Advances in biofuels and other biorenewables from plants
∑ State-of-the-art sessions on epigenetics, 3D models, stem cells in in vitro
toxicology, and innate immunity
∑ Biosensors, animal-plant interactions, and impact of bioactive molecules on animals
∑ Metabolic engineering of plants/cells for pharmaceuticals and nutriceuticals
∑ Agriculture and biotechnology in developing countries
∑ Biosafety, regulatory structures, and commercialization
Plenary speakers include Dr. Jay Keasling, Acting Deputy Laboratory Director, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California at Berkeley; Dr. Mark Howden, Theme Leader – Adaptive Primary Industries, Enterprise and Communities Climate Adaptation Flagship, CSIRO, Australia; Dr. Mary Ann Lila, Director, Plants for Human Health Institute, North Carolina Research Campus, North Carolina State University;
Dr. Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development; Director, Science, Technology, and Globalization Project; Principal Investigator, Agricultural Innovation in Africa; and Member of the Board, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University; Jeff Gordon, M.D. , Dr. R. J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor, Washington University, St. Louis School of Medicine and Director, Center for Genome Sciences; Dr. Inder Verma, Irwin Mark Jacobs Chair in Exemplary Life Sciences, Professor and American Cancer Society Professor of Molecular Biology, Laboratory of Genetics, The Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA;
Dr. Robb Fraley, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Monsanto Company, St. Louis, MO, Dr. Peter Beyer, Professor, Institute for Biology II (Cell Biology), University of Freiburg, Germany; Dr. Robert Corell, Vice President of Programs, H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, Washington, D.C.; Dr. Steven Pueppke, Assistant Vice President for Research & Graduate Studies, Michigan State University East Lansing, MI; Dr. Richard Flavell, Chief Scientific Officer, Ceres Corp., Thousand Oaks, CA, and Dr. Pascal Brown, Research Associate in Genetics, Dana Farber Cancer Insitute, Harvard University, Boston, MA.
Held every four years, IAPB meetings are the primary forum to meet face-to-face and learn about novel research from the scientists themselves. The Congress will include an opportunity to publish abstracts from the presented research, preview the latest equipment from scientific vendors, and interact with fellow IAPB members.