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March 25, 2010


Radical Change Needed; Swaminathan's U Turn on Brinjal; Propagating Prejudice; Controversial Technology; Yogic Flying and GM Foods


* Big Food Push Urged to Avoid Global Hunger
* Radical Change Needed for Global Agriculture
* 'Little Revolutions' Needed to Feed 9 Billion People - Farming Expert
* MS Swaminathan Throws His Weight Behind Bt Brinjal
* Attack of the Really Quite Likeable Tomatoes
* Food Safety: Focus on Real Risks, Not Fake Ones
* Misusing Science to Propagate Prejudice
* Sowing the Seeds for the Ideal Crop
* Changing the Environment for Transgenics in Europe
* Taking Root: The Developing World Embraces A Controversial Technology
* East African Community Boss Advocates GM Food
* Fareed Zakaria to Chair Panel on Global Biotech at 2010 BIO
* Food, Feed, and Fuel for the World (no, not BIO): Seed and Biotechnology at Ames, Iowa
* Moringa Seeds' Water-Purifying Powers
* Yogic Flying and GM Foods: The Wild Theories of Jeffrey Smith

Big Food Push Urged to Avoid Global Hunger

- Richard Black, BBC News, March 25, 2010

A big push to develop agriculture in the poorest countries is needed if the world is to feed itself in future decades, a report warns. With the world's population soaring to nine billion by mid-century, crop yields must rise, say the authors - yet climate change threatens to slash them. Already the number of chronically hungry people is above one billion.

The report was prepared for a major conference on farming and development that opens next week in France. The first Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) will bring scientists, policymakers, aid experts, businessmen and pressure groups together in an attempt to plot a way out of the hunger crisis.

"It's a huge problem," said Sir Gordon Conway from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, the conference's keynote speaker. "We have more than a billion people hungry at the moment, then on top of that we're going to have to feed a growing human population - we're looking at having to double food production by 2050."

The Green Revolution of the 1950s and 60s brought vast increases in yields of crops such as maize and rice to Asia and in South America. But Africa remained largely untouched; and even in Asia, yields have plateaued. Fertiliser use on Asian cereal fields has soared 40-fold in 50 years, but yields have only risen about four-fold.

Easy harvest
"In Asia, the Green Revolution created a sense of complacency, that we had solved the problem - and that lasted until the [food price] crisis of 2007," said Uma Lele, the former senior World Bank official who co-ordinated the report. "What we are looking at now is a much more complex 'perfect storm', because all of the 'easy fruit' has been harvested during the Green Revolution."

There was no single, simple measure, she said, that could bring about the yield increases needed in poorer countries, and make sure that the increases were sustainable. Ensuring all farmers had access to good information about farming methods would be a good start, she noted, but would require different mechanisms in different countries.

Access to facilities also needed to be improved, said Professor Conway. "Everywhere you go in Africa you can buy Coca-cola or Pepsi-cola, but you can't buy a packet of seeds so easily," he noted. Aid organisations working together with business had begun to transform that picture, he said; and when African maize farmers had access to the best techniques, their yields could jump fivefold.

But western donors were still more likely to put money into health or education projects than into agriculture, he added, despite the commitment that G8 leaders made at last year's G8 summit in Italy to spend $20bn on agriculture for development.

Despite the burgeoning wealth in South Asia, millions of people remain in stark poverty. Ninety-seven percent of the chronic hungry live in South Asia or in Africa. "These two regions of the world are going to be most affected by climate change," said Dr Lele. "And that's where the majority if the world's poor live; if we don't invest in research now, that's where the problems will be in 10 years' time because developments don't happen overnight."

Combating hunger in these regions, said Professor Conway, meant using every level of technology available, from conventional cross-breeding through to genetic engineering that could specifically give new traits to crop strains.

The much-discussed Golden Rice - enhanced with Vitamin A - was in pre-commercial trials, following years of wrangling about patent issues, he said, and Chinese scientists had developed about 30 GM varieties that were almost ready for commercial release.


Radical Change Needed for Global Agriculture


A report to be released at a pivotal global meeting on agriculture finds that transforming the agriculture agenda to meet the challenges of a warmer, environmentally-degraded world of 9 billion people will require changes “as radical as those that occurred during industrial and agricultural revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries.”

The comprehensive assessment, Transforming Agricultural Research for Development, suggests the need for massive reform of the architecture of what it terms a currently “fragmented global system of research and development,” in order to better reach small-scale farmers on the ground, while making food production more sustainable and the systems in which they are produced more resilient to future climatic and energy shocks.

The report, funded by a range of international organizations and development agencies, including the World Bank, European Commission, and the UK Department for International Development, provides a stage-setter at the first Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD), which has been tasked by the G8 to turn priorities on future needs in agriculture into constructive actions to reshape its future. Nearly one thousand participants, including World Food Prize Laureates, heads of international organizations, agriculture ministers, farmers, civil society groups, community development organizations, leading scientists, and private sector innovators are expected to participate in the meeting, taking place 28-31 March in Montpellier, France.

According to World Bank estimates, some 1.4 billion people were already living in poverty in 2005, well before the 2007 food price increases and the 2008 financial crisis. Since the financial crisis, an additional 100 million people are now believed to have joined the ranks of the poor and hungry, according to both FAO and World Bank estimates.

"It is clear that the Millennium Development Goal of substantially reducing the world’s hungry by 2015 will not be met. A major cause has been a steady decline in policy attention to agriculture and rural development,” said Uma Lele, the lead author of the report and Former Senior Adviser at the World Bank. “Little has been done by developed and developing countries alike to deal with the daunting challenge of hunger with long term- development assistance to agriculture and rural development. Rather as a flip side of development, short term emergency food and other emergency aid have increased.”


'Little Revolutions' Needed to Feed 9 Billion People - Farming Expert

- Laurie Goering, Retuters Alertnet, 25 March, 2010. Full interview at http://www.alertnet.org/db/an_art/60714/2010/02/25-005212-1.htm

Finding ways to feed a global population that is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050 will require "lots of little revolutions rather than one big bang," says Uma Lele, an Indian-born agricultural economist.

Lele, lead author of a report released on Thursday called "Transforming Agricultural Research for Development," says the keys to boosting production lie not in new hybrid seeds or other "silver bullet" technologies but in a myriad of small advances, from mobile phone technology that gives small farmers information about where to find the best price for their produce on any given day to cutting paperwork associated with obtaining grants.

Q: What are the prospects for finding a sustainable way to feed 9 billion people - up from 6 billion today - by 2050?
A: We have to produce research that leads to much more environmentally sustainable solutions that help poor people. There are some technologies that have happened completely outside of the agricultural research system, like the huge growth in cell phones in developing countries, that are important. If more of that technology is brought to bear and we don't just give money to scientists to breed crops, then we can have more successes. In a revolution, you need totally unexpected partners playing a role.

Q: How do genetically modified crops fit into a future of sustainable boosts in agricultural production? Some people say they are the only answer; others say they reduce resiliency to problems like climate change by making farmers who have to buy expensive inputs more financially vulnerable.
A: We can't exclude any solutions because the challenges are really big. That means genetically modified crops and technologies have a role to play. But there needs to be more information on them and much greater development of institutions in developing countries that are accountable to their own people, so the right information is shared with populations and they can make their own decisions. These decisions need to be made not just by a few people for or against genetically modified crops.


MS Swaminathan Throws His Weight Behind Bt Brinjal

- Senthalir, S, DNA (India) March 25, 2010 http://www.dnaindia.com/bangalore/report_ms-swaminathan-throws-his-weight-behind-bt-brinjal_1363104

Bangalore -- MS Swaminathan, renowned as the “father of economical ecology,” and member of parliament, on Wednesday vouched for the need to introduce Bt brinjal.

He was speaking at a meet on ‘2010-11 Budget and National Food Security’ organised by the Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

“Bt Brinjal is pest resistant. It should be tested as and when released. Research has to be conducted, and be prepared for the series,” he said. He added that regulations have to be brought in, so that a move such as this could be safely implemented. Dr Swaminathan also expressed disappointment with the Union budget allocation to agriculture. He said the poor allocation in the budget was a reflection of the priority of the government.


Attack of the Really Quite Likeable Tomatoes

- The Economist, Feb 25 2010 http://www.economist.com/

The success of genetically modified crops provides opportunities to win over their critics IN THE 14 years since the first genetically modified crops were planted commercially, their descendants, relatives and remixes have gone forth and multiplied like profitable, high-tech pondweed.

A new report shows that 25 countries now grow GM crops, with the total area under cultivation now larger than Peru. Three-quarters of the farmland used to grow soya is now sown with a genetically modified variant, and the figures for cotton are not that far behind, thanks to its success in India. China recently gave the safety go-ahead to its first GM rice variety and a new GM maize that should make better pig feed. More and more plants are having their genomes sequenced: a full sequence for maize was published late last year, the soya genome in January. Techniques for altering genomes are moving ahead almost as fast as the genomes themselves are stacking up, and new crops with more than one added trait are coming to market.

Such stories of success will strike fear into some hearts, and not only in GM-averse Europe; a GM backlash is under way in India, focused on insect-resistant aubergines. Some of these fears are understandable, but lacking supporting evidence they have never been compelling. On safety, the fear which cuts closest to home, the record continues to look good. Governments need to keep testing and monitoring, but that may be becoming easier. More precise modifications, and better technologies for monitoring stray DNA both within plants and in the environment around them, mean that it is getting easier to be sure that nothing untoward is going on.

Then there is the worry that GM crops are a way for big companies to take over the livelihoods of small farmers and, in the end, a chunk of nature itself. Seen in this light the fact that 90% of the farmers growing GM crops are comparatively poor and in developing countries is sinister, not salutary; given Monsanto’s dominance in America’s soyabean market, it seems to suggest incipient world domination. It is certainly true that big firms make a lot of money selling GM seeds: the GM seed market was worth $10.5 billion in 2009, and the crops that grew from that seed were worth over $130 billion.

But multinationals are not the only game in town. The governments of China (which has increased agricultural research across the board), India and Brazil are also developing new GM crops. In 2009 a GM version of an Indian cotton variety, developed in the public sector, came to market, and a variety engineered by a private Indian firm has been approved for commercialisation. Charities, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are also funding efforts in various countries to make crops more hardy or nutritious. GM seeds that come from government research bodies, or from local firms, may not arouse quite so much opposition as those from large foreign companies, especially when they provide characteristics that make crops better, not just easier to farm.

Moreover, where the seeds come from is a separate question from who should pay for them, as Mr Gates points out. As with drugs and vaccines, it is possible to get products that were developed with profit in mind to the people who need them using donor money and clever pricing and licensing deals. In the longer term, if the seeds deliver what the farmers require, the need for such special measures should diminish. After all, the whole idea is not that poor farmers should go on being poor. It is that poor farmers should get a bit richer, be able to invest a bit more, and thus increase the food available to a growing and predominantly urban population.

More than strange fruits
There is another worry about GM technology, though, that should be taken seriously. It is that its success and appeal to technophiles may, in the minds of those who pay for agricultural research, crowd out other approaches to improving farming. Because it depends on intellectual property that can be protected, GM is ripe for private investment.

There is a lot of other agricultural research that is less amenable to corporate ownership but still needs doing. From soil management to weather forecasts to the preservation, study and use of agricultural biodiversity, there are many ways to improve the agricultural systems on which the world’s food supply depends, and make them more resilient as well as more profitable. A farm is not a just a clever crop: it is an ecosystem managed with intelligence. GM crops have a great role to play in that development, but they are only a part of the whole.


Food Safety: Focus on Real Risks, Not Fake Ones

- Professors Bruce Chassy, Ph.D., and David Tribe, Ph.D; Academics Review, Mar 18, 2010

Disease microbes, nutrient shortages and lack of access are greatest threats, not biotechnology. Contamination of fish and meat with parasites, or grains with mold toxins, are also significant food health hazards.

The safety of food components obtained from genetically modified crops is part of a much bigger issue of food safety. Food safety is a complex but fascinating topic to discuss, because food is itself is both chemically very complicated and absolutely essential for human survival. Food’s wonderful flavors, colors and aromas all come from an extraordinarily large chemical palette that we all delight in savoring when taking a delicious mouthful.

Any particular food component such as a fruit, vegetable or spice may contain hundreds of different chemical compounds. The food we eat can be contaminated by many different natural toxic chemicals, artificial chemicals, and disease-causing organisms. These are the sources of most of the risks we face when we eat food.

It is important to keep a sense of proportion when thinking about the safety of genetically modified food, because wasting our attention on risks that are minuscule will distract us from the important job of keeping our communities free from the most likely sources of food-based harm globally, such as these:
* Disease-causing microbes
* Dietary shortages of vitamins and minerals such as iron
* A lack of access to food, leading to starvation and malnutrition

Food scientists have given, and continue to give on a daily basis, lots of attention to managing food hazards. There is a considerable body of expert knowledge about food risks (e.g, Adams and Moss 2008, Kotsonis and Burdock 2008, Murano 2003, Omaye 2004 ). A top priority is to make sure the public is protected from infectious agents such as food-borne viruses and bacteria that, taken together, are the No. 1 source of food-borne illness. Experts believe that food-borne illness may make more than one billion people ill every year, and causes the deaths of millions.

Because large numbers of people can be affected by illness – such as diarrhea, which can spread widely in the commercial food chain – attention to ensuring the absence of pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli 0157 and Salmonella in commercially produced produce is one of the more important food-safety priorities. Unfortunately, there have been large outbreaks of food-borne disease caused by hamburger patties, spinach, peanuts and tomatoes contaminated with disease-causing bacteria in recent years, and tragically, too many deaths caused by inattention to food microbe-related safety.

Contamination of fish and meat with parasites, or grains with mold toxins, are also significant food health hazards. A large portion of the liver, kidney and esophageal cancer in the world, as well as many birth defects and organ failures, can be traced directly to natural toxicants in our foods. These are produced by molds that grow naturally on our food if we do not prevent them from doing so. It has been concluded that the impact of naturally occurring mycotoxins (mold toxins) has been greatly underestimated and that these compounds may be adversely affecting large numbers of people each year (Wild and Gong 2010).

The safety of chemicals present naturally in foods or applied as additives is also a complicated and challenging issue. This is because the average diet contains literally hundreds of thousands of different types of chemical substances. Some of these natural plant chemicals are toxic because they are natural pesticides that are produced by plants themselves to protect them against insects and other animals that want to eat them.

Millions of years ago, plants began to compensate for their inability to flee from predators (in this case, herbivores) by adapting to contain compounds that would discourage them from being eaten. This is probably why many vegetables and fruits such as cassava, bitter almonds, cherry and apple contain the deadly poison cyanide. Many members of the pea family of plants contain other toxic chemicals. One of them, grass pea (Lathrus sativus) is an important food source in India and Ethiopia, but consumption of this food for long periods gives rise to the dreadful nerve and muscle disease known as lathyrism. Interestingly, human’s aversion to bitter tastes also probably evolved as a defense mechanism since the bitter components of food are very often toxic.

Because of these basic realities of food complexity and the natural presence of potential hazards, assurance of food safety is not a black-and-white issue. It is complicated still further by the fact that one organisms’ poison (like theobromine to dogs) can be another’s delight (put another way, chocolate). It is not possible to give absolute assurance of safe food and to guarantee absence of any chemicals that are potentially able to cause harm. It is important to remember that any chemical can cause harm if it is present in excessive quantities; even relatively harmless chemicals such as water, table salt, or baking soda, if taken excessively, can cause death.

As the ancient poison expert (and the father of the science of poisons, toxicology), Paracelsus (1493 to 1541) said: “What is there that is not a poison? All things are poison and nothing without poison. Solely the dose determines that a thing is not a poison.” This applies directly to the chemicals found in foods. The dose makes the poison, and our daily diet contains many poisons naturally present in doses that are usually below the level that causes harm.

This background level of chemical exposure is unavoidable. For example, 99 percent of all the pesticides in our diets are natural chemicals produced by plants, and 99 percent of the carcinogens in our diets are also chemicals found naturally in foods.

Microbiologists know that foods can harbor food pathogens. The harvesting of food from soil or from the sea is subject to the uncertainties of natural events that make attaining absolute safety impossible—put another way, when it comes to food, there is no such thing as zero risk.

Regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) provide systems and laws that are able to keep these infectious-disease problems under control if food-safety systems are properly followed by food companies, food retail outlets, and families. Food safety depends upon implementing a proactive risk-management plan, using good manufacturing practices and standards, and in many cases, working out that the food is safe by balancing a lot of different sources of evidence.

If food safety required elimination of every compound that might, under some circumstances, cause harm, virtually no food would be declared fit for consumption. In practice then, food safety is a balancing act of making sure that new foods are at least as safe as what we eat already—without requiring guarantees of absolute safety in all circumstances. This is the approach scientists use when determining the safety of our food supply. It is also the approach food scientists and safety specialists use when determining the safety of genetically modified foods: Are they at least as safe as what we already eat?

Applying these standards, the record shows that crops and foods produced through biotechnology have been scrutinized for safety – in advance, in depth and in detail – more than any other foods in human history. Their remarkable record of safety reflects the conclusion of expert bodies around the world that have considered this issue and found, as the European Commission did, that:

Indeed, the use of more precise technology and greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods; and if there are unforeseen environmental effects – none have appeared as yet – these should be rapidly detected by our monitoring requirements. On the other hand, the benefits of these plants and products for human health and the environment become increasingly clear.

–European Commission, Press Release of Oct. 8, 2001, announcing the release of a 15-year study

(References at website - http://academicsreview.org/2010/03/food-safety-focus-on-real-risks-not-fake-ones/


Misusing Science to Propagate Prejudice

- From: Siddhartha Shome

Regarding the posting of "The Path of Science for GM Crops In India by - Debashis Banerji, The Hindu (India),
(AgBioView, March 24, 2010; http://www.agbioworld.org/newsletter_wm/index.php?caseid=archive&newsid=2961 ),

Here is another piece by the same Debashis Banerji from 2002 http://www.india-seminar.com/2002/516/516%20mihir%20shah%20&%20debashis%20banerji.htm

The first paragraph is interesting and outlines what they are trying to do. The objective is spelled out as follows:

"we want to try and answer the question: how can we make the critique of genetically modified (GM) crops most effective ".

In persuance of this objective, the authors propose a strategy that they think will be effective:

"We must engage with the science of genetics on its own terms. Our attitude must not be anti-science. We need to both try and understand the specific science and to ground our critique in its highest principles and achievements. -- It is an engagement with the ‘other’ in his own terms"

What the authors are saying is that they are starting from the firm conviction that GM crops are bad. Their aim is to construct a critique of GM crops that will be effective in swaying public opinion. They feel that in this endeavor, science - or at least scientific language - can be a useful tool. In other words, they see science primarily as a tool to propagate their already held conviction (I would call it prejudice) in the public arena.

This is actually a complete reversal of what science represents. In reality science should mean carefully looking at empirical evidence and then using reason and logic to draw conclusions. The flow should be from evidence and reason to conclusion, not the other way around.

While the (mis)use of science to propagate prejudices may work to a certain extent, it has one great weakness: the lack of sufficient empirical evidence to support the prejudices. They try to get around this weakness by glossing over the lack of evidence and depicting some science-fiction type catastrophic scenarios that they say could come true sometime in the future.

Hopefully, the public will call their bluff sooner rather than later.

Regards, Sid


Sowing the Seeds for the Ideal Crop

- Elizabeth Pennisi, Science, Feb. 12 2010, Vol. 327. no. 5967,pp. 802 - 803. Full article at http://scienceonline.org/cgi/content/full/327/5967/802

Researchers' wish list includes traits that could boost plant productivity. New technologies are needed to make some of these advances possible.

Listen to plant breeders talk about food security, and the message becomes loud and clear: Substantial improvements are needed in current crops to achieve higher yields and sustainable farming. To achieve those gains, agricultural companies have turned to robotics and other measures to streamline breeding programs. And researchers are finding creative ways to introduce and use genes. The point is to make a plant that's tough, productive, and healthful. Here's a quick look at just some of the most desired plant improvements—and the techniques that might make them possible.

Lofty Goals
1. Improve the nutrient content of seeds and edible plant parts
2. No more sex.- get hybrids to reproduce asexually through a process called apomixis.
3. Install warning lights. A pigment gene that turns on—and alert farmers to take remedial action.
4. More crop per drop. upgrading drought-response biochemical pathways—could increase water-use efficiency.
5. Longer shelf life. Enhanced control of ripening and senescence could reduce the amount of spoiled harvest.
6. Improve nitrogen efficiency. Fertilizers are costly to farmers and the environment. Improving a plant's uptake and use would be a big help. Better yet, build into the plant the genes necessary to carry out nitrogen fixation
7. Tougher pest defenses. Adding genes for toxins that kill only pest insects or nematodes can help, as can the addition of genes that attract the enemies of these pests.

Technologies for a Better Farming Future: Artificial Chromosomes; RNA Interference; Targeted Gene Replacement; Robotics


Changing the Environment for Transgenics in Europe

- Crop Biotech Update, March 19, 2010. isaaa.org

Why are their very few genetically modified(GM) crops approved for commercialization in Europe? How can their be greater public confidence in GM crops?The journal Nature answers these questions in the news article A new dawn for transgenic crops in Europe.

A major insight is that the European Union-wide system for approving genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is not working. Getting crops approved require a 'qualified' majority of the 27 member states, hence opposition by a few countries can block the introduction of a crop across the entire bloc. If a decision is not approved by the European Council a decision rests on the European Commission. However, despite the commission's attempt to force France, Greece, Austria and Hungary to lift bans on growing MON 810 maize, they could not get the majority vote of member states needed. More recently, countries such as Austria and Italy, said they will defy the commission and refuse to allow a crop like Amflora potatoes to be planted by farmers.

Nevertheless the EC is expected to continue to approve GMOs across the EU based on scientific advice of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and then let member states decide whether to grow the crops or not. This approach could encourage more approvals and allow countries that wish to grow GMOs to do so. Other experts believethat more publicly funded research on GMOs would lead to greater public confidence in risk assessments, which are currently heavily dependent on industry studies.

The original article is available at http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100309/full/news.2010.112.html


Taking Root: The Developing World Embraces A Controversial Technology

- The Economist, Feb 25 2010 http://www.economist.com/

A DECADE ago, after European activists whipped up lots of negative coverage about the perils of toying with nature, the future of genetically modified (GM) crops seemed uncertain. The technology was adopted by farmers in the rich world outside Europe, but poor countries seemed likely to be left behind. However, according to a report released on February 23rd by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit outfit that monitors the use of GM crops, the sector is blossoming, especially in the developing world, where poor and unproductive farmers have the most to gain from such advances.

Despite the decline in food prices and the global economic downturn last year, the use of GM technology increased by about 7%, according to ISAAA. More than three-quarters of the soyabeans grown around the world are now genetically modified, as is roughly half the cotton and over a quarter of the maize (corn). Crucially, developing countries now account for nearly half of the world’s 134m hectares of transgenic crops, with Brazil, Argentina, India and China in the vanguard (see chart). Of the 14m or so farmers now benefiting from the technology, perhaps 90% live in poor countries.

Better yet, for the most part, this trend is now being driven not by pushy Western multinationals, but by domestic political pressure to increase agricultural productivity, and the home-grown research that this has fostered. Brazil’s dramatic rise to the global number two spot (after the United States) owes much to the government’s investment in local research centres like Embrapa, which in February won approval for an herbicide-tolerant soyabean developed locally in partnership with BASF, a big German chemicals firm.

The greatest potential for growth is probably in China. In late November the government gave its blessing to GM varieties of rice and maize. Both were developed by local researchers, without funding or other help from Western firms. As rice is the most important food crop in the world and maize is the main form of animal feed, these decisions could have a big impact. Clive James of ISAAA calculates that the GM rice alone could deliver benefits (in the form of higher yields, greater productivity, savings on pesticides and fertilisers, and so on) of $4 billion a year to China’s 100m-odd rice-growing households.

Africa’s leaders have been reluctant to accept GM crops. But that is changing, argues Calestous Juma of Harvard University. South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso are encouraging the use of the technology. China is also beginning to pioneer “South-South” technology transfers in Africa and elsewhere, he says.

Attitudes are also changing at Western agribusinesses, some of which used to dismiss poor farmers as mere “seed pirates”. As developing countries develop GM crops of their own, these firms are now pursuing public-private partnerships or joint ventures with local firms and otherwise softening their stance. Monsanto, a hard-nosed pioneer of transgenic crops, is donating its drought-resistant technology to a coalition called Water Efficient Maize for Africa, for example.

Yet in Europe, opposition to GM food appears as strong as ever, despite increasingly strident scientific dissent. The European arm of Greenpeace, a green pressure group, still denounces the technology and gloats about a decline of over a tenth in cultivation of GM crops in Europe last year. Sir David King, a former scientific adviser to the British government, argues that the unjustified vilification of GM is leading to needless deaths. He thinks the delay in the introduction of flood-resistant GM rice, for example, has condemned many in the poor world to starvation.

India, too, has recently been caught up in a Frankenfood fight. In mid-February the government issued a moratorium on the development of GM aubergine (Bt Brinjal, as it is known locally), despite a ruling last year by an official scientific advisory body in favour of the technology. The government’s decision was all the more puzzling given India’s success with GM cotton, which has helped transform the country from an importer of cotton into the world’s biggest exporter.

Ask Robert Fraley, chief technology officer of Monsanto, what he makes of Chinese and Indian GM technology, and he gives it a hearty endorsement: “I hope in future we can license it.” That would depend, of course, on governments approving its use in the first place.


East African Community Boss Advocates GM Food

- The Citizen Reporter, Arusha, Tanzania http://thecitizen.co.tz/

East African Community (EAC) secretary general Juma Mwapachu has said biotechnology can be used to improve food security, criticising some African leaders who oppose it.

He said, when launching a research project coordinated by the Inter University Council of East Africa (IUCEA), an institution under EAC, that it was high time the continent embraced biotechnology, as it can be used to increase crop production.

He noted that despite various researches which have been coordinated by IUCEA for years on biotechnology, biosafety and biotechnology policy development, the region was far from embracing it. “Our leaders are evidently partly to blame in resisting GM (genetically modified) technology,” he said at the launch of a project known as CREATING (Cooperative Research for Eastern Africa Territorial Integration under Globalisation).

However, the EAC boss said with the case of Tanzania things might change soon following remarks made recently by the Prime Minister, Mr Mizengo Pinda who was quoted debunking fears on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). During his meeting with policy makers and scientific fraternity in Dar es Salaam last week, the PM fervently expressed the need for Tanzanian scientists to quickly move into the development of genetically engineered crops.

Also early last week EAC secretariat hosted a high powered delegation of scholars working in a project called Agricultural Innovation for Africa (AIA) during which GMOs featured extensively during discussions. AIA, the ambitious project funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been advocating for increased farm production in Africa through various new strategies, including embracing biotechnology.

Mr Mwapachu underscored the importance and urgency for the universities and research institutions in the EA region to delve deeper into agricultural research and biotechnology, in particular. “Through this CREATING network, our universities and research bodies will lead the much needed change in this field of biotechnolgoy without which our agriculture will remain backward,” he stated. He stressed: “It is imperative that we reap the full benefits of knowledge in a highly competitive global landscape and in an era where climate change will disrupt food security.”


Fareed Zakaria to Chair Panel On Global Biotech Innovation During 2010 BIO International Convention

Session will explore findings and key issues from the 2010 Scientific American Worldview Report
2010 BIO International Convention - Wednesday, May 5 from 3:00-4:30 pm at McCormick Place in Chicago, Ill http://convention.bio.org

Fareed Zakaria, author, journalist and host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS, will moderate a discussion among industry leaders on the state of biotech hubs and innovation around the globe during the upcoming 2010 BIO International Convention, the world’s largest gathering of the global biotechnology community. The panel will review the results and central themes of an annual study highlighting key international developments produced by Scientific American in cooperation with the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the organizer of the BIO International Convention.

The session will focus on comprehensive survey results from a newly published report entitled, Scientific American Worldview: A Global Biotechnology Perspective featuring the Worldview Scorecard, a country-by-country “innovation capacity” ranking. The 2010 Scientific American Worldview report will be available at the 2010 BIO International Convention and will be viewable online at www.saworldview.com in mid May.

“Fareed Zakaria is a well-known and highly respected journalist. We are excited to have him join us at the 2010 BIO International Convention,” said Jim Greenwood, BIO’s President and CEO. “Together with our partners at Scientific American, we are honored that he will moderate a distinguished panel to talk about how we can move biotech innovation forward in both established countries and emerging markets around the world.”


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

- April -28, 2010. Ames, Iowa http://www.ucs.iastate.edu/mnet/bigmap/home.html

Speakers for the symposium include:
Jack Bobo, U.S. State Department, “Agriculture Arrives Late to the Climate Debate”,
Delphine Guey, French Association for Seeds and Seedlings (GNIS), “A European Perspective on Challenges and Issues for Seed Trade”
Joe DeVries, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), “Seed Enterprise Development Challenges in Africa”
Yilma Kebede, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “The Role of Foundations in Global Agricultural Development”

More Info: Dr. Manjit Misra, 515-294-6821, mkmisra-at-iastate.edu


Poor Missing Out on Moringa Seeds' Water-Purifying Powers

- Carol Campbell, Scidev.net, March 24, 2010

Seeds from a tree that grows widely across the developing world could play a key role in water purification — but there is lack of awareness about this application despite a long indigenous history, say researchers.

The Moringa tree — Moringa oleifera — is native to North India but is also found in Indonesia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, and is used in many communities mostly for food and folk medicine.

But adding crushed Moringa seeds to water can cut the time taken for bacteria and solids to settle from a full day to just one hour, and has potential for preventing diarrhea, according to Michael Lea of Clearinghouse, a Canadian organisation that investigates low-cost water purification technologies.

Lea has published a step-by-step procedure online that shows how the seeds can be crushed to produce a natural flocculant — a substance that aggregates suspended particle

Link to full paper in Current Protocols in Microbiology http://www.currentprotocols.com/protocol/mc01g02


Yogic Flying and GM Foods: The Wild Theories of Jeffrey Smith

- B. Chassy and D. Tribe, Academics Review. http://academicsreview.org/r

Jeffrey Smith, Author of Genetic Roulette demonstrating “yogic flying” during a Natural Law Party press conference in Springfield, Ill., on Oct. 22, 1996, where he was a member of a party delegation from Iowa. Associated Press photo.(see picture at http://academicsreview.org/reviewed-individuals/jeffrey-smith/)

Jeffrey Smith isn’t bound by the usual conventions. He once advocated getting thousands of people to collectively practice transcendental meditation – the yogic flying technique, to be precise, as he shows at left (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TM-Sidhi_program) – to reduce crime and increase “purity and harmony” in the “collective consciousness.” Here Smith can be seen demonstrating yogic flying at an Illinois news conference on Oct. 22, 1996, where he was promoting it for the Natural Law Party of Iowa.

Smith is now better known for his theories about biotech agriculture, or GM foods. His self-published books Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette have built for him an online profile that has made Smith one of the most widely quoted opponents of biotech ag —despite his evident lack of scientific credentials or other formal training on the subject. (He has had formal training in swing dancing, however, which he used to teach professionally.)

In addition, the “scientific studies” that Smith says support his theories are thoroughly contradicted by a vast body of data and scientific experience; they are wholly irresponsible. In his single-minded campaign against GM crops, Smith has shown an amazing capacity to ignore the scientific literature on almost every topic he discusses.

But, as he showed at that press conference when he explained the role that meditation should play in the “collective consciousness,” Smith is a gifted communicator.

He’s particularly adept at getting his message out via the latest online methods, which he uses to spread his misinformation about biotechnology, in particular, to an ever-widening audience. In his most recent self-published book, Genetic Roulette, Smith claims to show 65 different “documented health risks” associated with biotech foods. Not one of them has been found to be scientifically valid by Academics Review.

Professors Bruce Chassy and David Tribe address each of these claims here http://academicsreview.org/reviewed-content/genetic-roulette/ , illuminating them in the unfiltered light of peer-reviewed science.