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March 19, 2010


Argentina Settles WTO Case with EU; Increasing Crop Output; Future of GM Potatoes; WWF Official On GM; BIO in Chicago


* EU and Argentina Settle WTO Case on Genetically Modified Organisms
* World Crop Output Must Increase to Meet Growing Need
* The History and Future of GM Potatoes
* Genetically Modified Wheat: No Influence on Insect Larvae and Aphids
* GM Crops Are Part of India's and World's Future
* WWF Official Calls for More Biotech Crops to Save the Environment
* Biotechnology on the March
* Building Biosafety Capacities - FAO's Experience and Outlook
* Russia: Plant Genetics, Genomics, and Biotechnology
* BIO 2010 - What's in it for Food and Agriculture?

EU and Argentina Settle WTO Case on Genetically Modified Organisms

- europa.eu, March 19, 2010

The European Union and Argentina have today signed in Buenos Aires a final settlement of the WTO dispute that Argentina brought against the EU in May 2003 regarding the application of its legislation on biotech products. The mutually agreed solution provides for the establishment of a regular dialogue on issues of mutual interest on biotechnology applied to agriculture. The EU and Argentina will notify this settlement to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body as a mutually agreed solution. A settlement of the WTO dispute that Canada brought against the EU regarding the same issue was already reached on 15 July 2009.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said: "This is the second settlement regarding the WTO case on GMOs that is reached. This is certainly a recognition by Canada and Argentina as much as the EU that the best approach to this complex issue is a regular dialogue. I hope the United States, the only remaining WTO complainant in this dispute, will soon come to the same conclusion."

The European Commission has held regular discussions on biotech-related issues with the three complainants in this case – Canada, Argentina and the United States - since the adoption of the WTO panel report in 2006.

Similarly to the settlement reached last year with Canada, the settlement reached with Argentina provides for bi-annual meetings between competent services of the European Commission and Argentinean authorities regarding the application of biotechnology to agriculture and related trade issues of mutual interest, including:

The follow up of the authorisation processes of genetically modified products of interest to the Parties, both in the EU and Argentina;

The measures related to biotechnology which may affect trade between Argentina and the EU, including measures adopted by the EU Member States; Specific issues which arise in the context of requests for authorisation submitted to regulatory evaluation;

The exchange of information on the trade impact of asynchronous authorisations of genetically modified products; The evaluation of the economic and trade outlook of future authorisations of genetically modified products; The renewal of authorisations of genetically modified products;

The exchange of information regarding other relevant issues in the field of agriculture biotechnology, including new legislation in the field in the field of biotechnological agriculture, or coordination mechanisms to solve eventual cases of adventitious presence of non-authorised GMOs in shipments of authorised products.

This dialogue is aimed at an exchange of information that would contribute to avoiding unnecessary obstacles to trade. This dialogue does not prejudice EU action on individual product authorizations for GM products which will continue to follow the normal process and procedure.


World Crop Output Must Increase to Meet Growing Need

- Via Checkbiotech.org, March 18, 2010

Global crop production must rise 86 per cent to meet world food needs by 2050, according to a study sponsored by businesses including Monsanto Co, DuPont Co, Archer Daniels Midland Co and Deere & Co. By mid-century, planted acreage may need to expand 16 per cent, provided historic trends in yield increases don't change, according to the study released today in Washington.

Biotech products "are critical to growth in yields" in developed agricultural economies, study author John Kruse said at a briefing for reporters. For developing countries, genetic modification and engineering of plants will work in tandem with modernised farm and transportation networks to encourage greater output, he said.

The United Nations has said that by 2050, food production must increase by 70 per cent to feed an estimated world population of 9 billion people, up from today's 6.8 billion. The number of people going hungry each day topped 1 billion for the first time last year, according to the UN.

Crop and livestock output may fall as much as 25 per cent by 2050 unless food production and handling are changed, the UN has said. It cited increasing water shortages and shifting land use with climate change.

Yield, Acreage Growth
Based on historic trends, today's study from the Global Harvest Initiative projected rising soybean acreage in Brazil and India, while corn planting will increase in China, where rice will decline. Farmland will drop in China and the US, while remaining little changed in Europe, according to the study.

The initiative group was formed last year by the companies, which all have agribusiness units, to promote crop-yield and food-production increases. The organisation supports biotechnology and genetically engineered foods as a way to reduce the amount of land needed for agriculture.

Global daily calorie consumption per person is expected to rise 19 per cent to 3,226 by 2050 from current levels, according to the study. In Asia, people will eat more meat and vegetable oil, while in Africa, more grains and oils will be consumed, the study projects. India is a "wild card," according to the study, because of a cultural bias against eating beef and pork.

Overall grain consumption will rise 5 per cent, based on calories consumed by each person, by 2050, while the proportion of grain-based calories in the average diet will fall to 41 per cent from 48 per cent currently, according to the study.

The report issued today was prepared by IHS Global Insight, a subsidiary of Englewood, Colorado-based IHS Inc., which provides research and consulting services. Kruse is a managing director of the unit's agricultural group.


The History and Future of GM Potatoes

- Paul van Eijck, PotatoPro, March 10, 2010 http://www.potatopro.com/

Last week the European Commission approved cultivation and processing of the genetically modified starch potato Amflora. The request for authorisation was submitted by Amflora's developer BASF in August 1996, more than 13 years ago! The scope of the application included cultivation, industrial use and the use of pulp as feed.

Amflora is a starch potato developed by BASF for the production of specialty starch. Potato starch consists of two types of starch with very different properties: amylose and amylopectin. Instead of the regular 20/80 amylose-/amylopectin mixture in a typical potato, Amflora has been genetically modified to contain only amylopectin. This gives the starch superior properties for a variety of technical applications such as making glossy paper, binding concrete.

Amflora is the first GM crop approved by the EC in 12 years and as such it is a major milestone on a continent that has always strongly opposed GM crops.

The fact that Europe's newly approved GM crop is a potato for industrial starch production rather than food may make this reversal easier to digest: for now, the end product is more likely to be found in your glossy printing paper than on your dining table. And attachment to food is quite different from our emotional involvement with printing paper. Eventually, BASF wants to use Amflora's starch in food as well and has submitted an application to do so.

On the other hand the approval of Amflora is controversial, since the potato contains a resistance gene against an antibiotic, used in the selection of potato plants that successfully express the inserted genetic construct. It's an outdated technique, but we shouldn't forget that Amflora's application dates back 13 year! Nevertheless, the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) has repeatedly judged the product as safe.

Since waste (pulp) of potato starch production is frequently used as feed, such use was included in the application and approved by the EC. BASF has stated that they plan to use Amflora's waste in biofuel production. A wise choice from a PR point of view, given the fact that the approval of GMO in Europe is definitely a "hot potato".

Anyhow, European's will get some time to get used to the idea of a GM crop since the approval of Amflora is too late for widespread use of Amflora for the 2010 crop. In North America, currently no genetically modified potatoes are commercially grown. But the GM potato has already a colorful history in the US and Canada:

Between 1996 and 2001 Monsanto introduced a range of GM potatoes with resistances against Colorado beetle and PVY virus (Newleaf/Naturemark). Farmers started to grow these potatoes, but the acreage never exceeded 2-3 % of the total potato crop. Major companies such as McDonald's, Wendy's and Frito-Lay refused to use GM potatoes, primarily due to consumer skepticism regarding the unknown environmental and health consequences of GM foods. In 2000 McCain declared to stop processing GM potatoes and other french fry manufacturers followed. Also, US Potato Dehy manufacturers ran into trouble with export to Japan. Since Japan does not accept GM foods, a range of snack foods were recalled after it was found that dehydrated potato products contained GM potato.

In March 2001, Monsanto took the Newleaf potato varieties off the market and since focused on wheat, corn, soybean and cotton. Now, over 90% of the soybean and over 60 % of the corn grown in the US is genetically modified.

Food companies are still very sensible to the opinion of their customer on GM crops. During discussion on the introduction of a potato moth resistant GM potato in South Africa in 2008, both McDonald's and McCain Foods formally opposed the introduction. The South Africa application was declined in 2009.So will we see GM potatoes again in North America shortly?

According to statements last October by John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council, 4 or 5 companies in the US are working on GM potato varieties, but none of these varieties are ready for commercial release, nor have gone through formal regulatory approval. But the US potato industry is working to make the reintroduction of genetically modified potatoes successful: e.g Keeling mentioned the National Potato Council was planning a task force to determine the best way of reintroduction of genetically modified potatoes without disturbing the market place.

Simplot is one of the US potato processing companies that has strategically invested in GM potatoes. Based on Simplot Plant Sciences publications and presentations, the company seems to have the right ideas to get consumers to buy into GM Potatoes:

* Potatoes with benefits for CONSUMERS instead of just for farmers. Think of enhancement of healthy ingredients, reduction of acrylamide, low sugar content (nice golden color) and no discoloration/black spots (PPO suppression).
* Simplot is working towards GM potatoes that do not contain foreign DNA. In its extreme form, this basically eliminates the difference between a potato obtained by regular breeding and genetic modification.

If that is combined with clear information for consumers as well as choice (segregation in the chain - instead of "contaminating" the regular chain past the point of no return) such products might very well be accepted by a majority of the consumers.

In the end, genetic modification is just a technology and - as with so many technologies - HOW the technology is used determines it's acceptability.


Genetically Modified Wheat: No Influence on Insect Larvae and Aphids


Two projects of the Swiss National Research Program "Benefits and Risks of the deliberate release of Genetically Modified Plants" (NFP 59) have investigated the possible effects of fungus-resistant genetically modified wheat on fly larvae and aphids. The results have now been published in two scientific journals: The GM wheat had no influence on the development of the animals, or on mortality or reproduction.

The researchers were interested in the effect of GM-wheat on fly larvae that decompose plant residues in the soil and so are involved in maintaining the soil fertility. Aphids were also chosen for study as they feed almost exclusively on plant sap and so are sensitive indicators for the food quality of the fodder plant.
Fly larvae: Important for soil fertility

Studies on fly larvae have been carried out by scientists at the Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the University of Bern. They fed larvae of two species of flies occurring in Switzerland with leaves from six different genetically modified wheat varieties. For comparison, larvae were also fed exclusively on six conventional strains of wheat. The researchers observed the development and the reproduction of the flies emerging from these larvae over four generations to see if there were any long-term effects. The different food sources had no effect on the fitness of any of the animals in any case.
Aphids: Sensitive indicators

A similar approach was chosen by the researchers at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Sciences at the University of Zurich in collaboration with the Research Station ART (Agroscope Reckenholz-Tänikon) for their project on aphids. In environmental chambers, 30 different aphid colonies were fed with eight different wheat species, four of which were genetically modified lines. The mortality, weight and fertility of the animals were recorded. All the measured parameters for all the differently fed aphids were comparable. No effects due to the genetic modifications were seen.

A moratorium for the commercial cultivation of genetically modified plants has been in force in Switzerland since 2005. In a referendum, the majority of the Swiss voted to ban the utilisation of genetically modified animals and plants initially to 2010. Until this time, research in the framework of the national research programme NFP 59 was meant to compile more knowledge on the use and risks of genetically modified plants. The moratorium was extended in February 2010 for another 3 years, to wait for the final results of the national research programme, which are expected to be available in mid-2012.

The Scientific Commission of the Swiss National Assembly was of the opinion that an extension would not lead to "any serious scientific disadvantage". The research remains restricted, but "sowing under strict conditions" was still permitted for research purposes.
More from GMO Safety

* "There is hope that resistance can be created through the targeted insertion of single genes". An interview with Karl-Heinz Kogel on fungal resistance in grain


GM Crops Are Part of India's and World's Future

- Jamal Mecklai, Business Standard (India) March 19, 2010. full story at

It is, of course, not surprising that there are concerns and protests -- nervousness is usually the handmaiden of change. Indeed, when Bt cotton was first introduced (in Gujarat?), there were huge concerns as well, writes Jamal Mecklai.

About 10 years ago, India's cotton textile industry was flat on its back. China is killing us. The government doesn't understand. Our borrowing costs are too high. We can't hire and fire. Export procedures are time-consuming and expensive. Our ports are in a mess. And so on. Fast forward to 2010 and it's an amazing new world.

Despite the global financial crisis -- or, to quote my old friend Rakesh Mohan, the North Atlantic crisis -- Indian textile companies showed top line growth ranging from 5 to 35 per cent in March 2009.

A few months later, I learned that another -- and perhaps key -- reason for the dramatic change in the complexion of the industry was the fact that as a result of the widespread application of Bt cotton about five years ago, India has (once again) become a cotton-surplus country, in fact, one of only three in the world.

And having ready access to raw material is obviously critical to sustaining profitability, particularly in the more commoditised segment of the industry, like towelling. Not surprisingly, two of the top three towel manufacturers in the world are Indian companies, and both of them are adding capacity.

So, there you have it. New-age genetic research and technology brings new life to an old economy industry, one that is amongst the largest employers in the country. Isn't that a wonderful tale?

That made me think about the recent brouhaha over Bt brinjal -- hi Jairam.

It is, of course, not surprising that there are concerns and protests -- nervousness is usually the handmaiden of change. Indeed, when Bt cotton was first introduced (in Gujarat?), there were huge concerns as well.

Fortunately, the smiling wheel of technological progress pooh-poohed the nervous naysayers and look where we are today: more Mercedes per capita in Ludhiana than in any other city in India. But, what of the concerns against genetically-modified foods? Are they safe? Couldn't they lead to unfathomable damage, genetic defects etcetera over longer time horizons? I mean, are we chasing short-term results with possibly horrible long-term consequences?

The truth, of course, is that I don't know. But it is also true that nobody really knows what impact any change will have over, say, 20 years. And as I have evolved from a knee-jerk protestor back in my student days in the US, I have come to recognise that (a) technology is not good or bad, it just is; (b) a new invention or development will never disappear till it has had its time -- however brief or long -- in the sun; and (c) circumstance, God, the market (in the broadest sense of the word) will continuously modulate technology till it genuinely addresses the needs of people.

Clearly, the protests against Bt brinjal will sustain for a while longer -- we eat brinjal, after all. But, to me, it is clear that genetically-engineered crops are part of India's and the world's future, European purists notwithstanding.

And if this can get our foodgrain productivity to increase anywhere near as much as it has in cotton, look out! Agricultural growth will spurt, double-digit GDP growth will become the norm, and India's century will be here sooner than we think.

So, bring on the Bt -- maybe I, too, will learn to enjoy bharta or stuffed or thinly-sliced and lightly-sauteed baingan.


(WWF Official Calls for More Biotech Crops to Save the Environment - CSP)

Freeze Your Footprint, Agribiz Told

- Philip Brasher Des Moines Register (Blog), March 17,2010

The world has got to stop increasing the environmental impact of producing food, and that will mean reducing consumption in rich countries as well as using more biotech crops. That was the message that Jason Clay, the senior vice president for market transformation at the World Wildlife Fund, gave to a meeting of the Global Harvest Initiative, a forum set up by Monsanto, Pioneer and other agribusiness giants. “We think we need to freeze the footprint of agriculture,” he said.

His is a message that’s guaranteed not to make anyone entirely happy. Anti-biotech advocates don’t like the message that gene-altered crops are needed to increase production. And the idea that a billion people on the plant consume too much is not one often heard from farm organizations. “We’re asleep at the wheel. We’ve got to wake up,” Clay said.

The world’s population is expected to rise from 6.7 million now to 9 billion people by 2050 and that increase coupled with rising incomes and changes in climate is expected to put more pressure on food supplies, especially in developing countires.

In addition to better crop genetics, Clay said improvements in farming practices need to be spread around the world faster and farmers also need to make better use of water, fertilizer and degraded lands. Less food should go to waste, too. An estimated 35 percent of the calories that farmers produce today doesn’t make it to the farmer, said Clay. Clay has a doctorate in anthropology and international agriculture from Cornell University.


Biotechnology on the March

- John Block, AgWeb (Blog), March 18, 2010

As we fought the weather challenge last fall, I couldn’t help but marvel at how the corn was still standing like trees – straight and tall. It was almost Christmas. Thirty or forty years ago, that corn we planted then would have been broken over and on the ground after suffering the severe weather that this past year’s corn took in stride.

The corn we plant now is not my grandfather’s corn. First came hybrid seeds. Then came chemicals to kill insects and pests that prey on your crop. But then came biotechnology.

We all marvel at the internet. Everyone has a cell phone. Well, the technological advancement in crop production is just as remarkable. In the last 25 years, corn production has shot up 40 percent. Other crops have also seen impressive yield increases.

I don’t know for sure where biotechnology is going to take us, but certainly it is going to be an exciting trip. We can count on using less energy, less chemicals, and more production. The number of acres planted to biotech crops is up to 330 million acres. North America, South America, Australia, China, and India are blanketed with biotech crops. Corn, cotton, soybeans, rice, and many more crops are everywhere. Even Europe that has fought the advancement of biotech is grudgingly giving ground. Recently, the European Union approved the growing of a biotech potato. They plan to open the door this summer to allow their member countries to decide on their own if they want to begin production of genetically modified crops. Stubborn Europe is behind the curve, but they aren’t blind and they can’t ignore where the world is headed.

We need to double crop production in the next 50 years. Innovation and the acceptance of new technology is the only way that we can satisfy the demand for food, feed, fuel, and fiber in the years ahead.

We must not allow the backward-looking critics of modern agriculture to win the day. Our obligation is to the 9 billion people that will be on this planet in 2050.

In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to http://www.johnblockreports.com.

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.


Building Biosafety Capacities - FAO's Experience and Outlook

An overview of the experience gained from FAO capacity building projects in agricultural biotechnology and biosafety

FAO, 2009. NRR, I1033/E.



Russia: Plant Genetics, Genomics, and Biotechnology

- June 07–10, 2010, Novosibirsk, Russia http://www.bionet.nsc.ru/plant-gen2010/Index-Engl.html

Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences () organizes the International Conference hosting the meeting. The Conference plans to discuss the following issues:

(1) Plant genome sequencing in the 21st century;
(2) Genetics and breeding in a changing environment;
(3) Chromosome biotechnology;
(4) Genome evolution; and
(5) Genomics towards systems biology


BIO 2010 - What's in it for Food and Agriculture?

- May 3-6,2010; Chicago, IL http://convention.bio.org/

Advancing Food and Agriculture Safety and Security

Date: Wednesday May 5, 2010 Time: 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM Location: McCormick Place, Chicago Room: S501 - South Bldg., Lvl 5

Description: The President’s National Homeland Security Strategy recognizes the importance of securing the nation’s food supply and designated agriculture as a “critical infrastructure.” An attack on the food and agriculture industries is likely to involve the contamination of resources rather than the destruction of infrastructure. However, the diverse and widespread nature of the industry makes it extremely difficult to identify and secure every facility that might be a potential target.

Global Food & Agriculture Reception

Date: Wednesday May 5, 2010 Time: 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM Location: Chicago Cultural Center

In Defense of Food

Date: Wednesday May 5, 2010 Time: 8:00 AM - 9:30 AM Location: McCormick Place, Chicago Room: N426C

Description: U.S. agriculture, especially animal agriculture, is under persistent attack for the technologies and practices used to produce food in today’s modern agriculture systems. These attacks have been from the political left and right, authors, movie directors, foreign governments, etc. As consumers have become more removed from food production, they have not been educated on how their food is produced and why. We also know we have a growing population that we will need to feed while resources remain essentially the same. As innovators of new technologies for the benefit of animal agriculture and public health, we must play a role in educating the consumer if we are to survive.

How Public Perception Affects Adoption of Technologies that Help Feed the World

Date: Wednesday May 5, 2010 Time: 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM Location: McCormick Place, Chicago Room: N426C

Description: The panel will address the connection between public perception of technologies, such as agricultural biotechnology, and their adoption. The speakers will address the political hurdles, which often result from cultures of misinformation and unfounded fears, that inhibit acceptance of agricultural technologies and that prevent certain populations from access to their many benefits.

Wheat, Don’t Pass Me By—Opportunities for Biotech Solutions for Wheat

Date: Tuesday May 4, 2010 Time: 9:30 AM - 10:30 AM Location: McCormick Place, Chicago Room: N426C

Description: Slow yield growth, competition with other crops for acres and lack of the wheat industry’s adoption of biotechnology have slowed wheat’s advancements. Recognition of these shortcomings by producers and other components in the wheat value chain has led to a renewed and escalating investment in biotechnology and conventional technologies. These investments are intended to foster a more sustainable supply of wheat. This session will explore the needs for bringing the latest technology to wheat and will address the opportunities and challenges that may come. The following segments will be represented: academics, technical, milling, baking, food companies and farming.

Little, Big: The State of the Art in Agbiotech Alliances

Date: Thursday May 6, 2010 Time: 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM Location: McCormick Place, Chicago Room: N426C

Description: The applications of biotechnology to agriculture continue to expand. With the advent of biofuels, transgenic crops have a whole new non-food-or-feed function that is currently green-positive. Ongoing advances in technology, such as those that make gene transfer easier to control, may be poised to revolutionize the fields of crop improvement and biomass-based ethanol production. Small companies with big ideas and big companies with capital to invest and infrastructure to put to use need each other to further advance ambitious agbiotechnology projects. Structuring these partnerships to work smoothly in today’s challenging environment (legal, regulatory, finance) may be a key to the agbiotech renaissance.

Healthy Traits—They’re Finally Here!

Date: Thursday May 6, 2010 Time: 8:00 AM - 9:30 AM Location: McCormick Place, Chicago Room: N426C

Description: For more than 15 years, plant biotech providers have been touting the promise of biotechnology to help develop healthier foods with direct consumer benefits. While the commercial timeline for these end-use products was slower than anticipated, the first “consumer-oriented” products are (near/on the) market, and more are on the way. Public and private researchers will preview the newest commercial traits and those traits still in the product pipeline. Speakers will discuss the global regulatory environment for these high-value traits. And a dietician and a food industry executive will share their views on consumer demand and acceptance of these novel traits and the resulting foods.