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Date:

April 22, 2010

Subject:

True Stewards of the Earth; A Greener Earth Day; Scientists Call on Bt Brinjal Release; Japan OKs Papaya; Ron Phillips Retiring; Free Market Earth Day

 

* Farmers are Stewards of the Earth
* A Greener Earth Day
* Biotech Makes Ag Production More Earth-Friendly
* Hundreds of Scientists Petition the Indian Govt to Reverse the Bt Brinjal Ban
* BIO Meet to Highlight Climate Change, Global Hunger and Public Perception of Ag Biotechnology
* GM Papaya Wins Approval in U.S., Japan
* UNESCO Survey on Biotechnology Capacity in Asia-Pacific
* Retirement of Dr. Ron Phillips
* Prof. Jonathan Gressel Wins the Israel Prize for Agricultural Research
* Celebrate Free Market Earth Day
---


Farmers are Stewards of the Earth

- Philip Nelson. St. Louis Today, April 22, 2010 http://www.stltoday.com

Earth Day is today, and we in agriculture want to join the rest of the world in celebrating and promoting the continued health of this planet that provides all of us with so much.

Farmers and ranchers sometimes get criticized as not being environmentally friendly. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

I'll talk about a few specific ways in which agriculture and farmers benefit the environment. But first, I want to pose a general question: Why wouldn't we take care of the planet? After all, if we hurt the soil, air and water, how would we grow our crops? How would we feed our animals? How would we support our families and leave our land to be farmed by our children?

As stewards of the land, it's important to us to take care of what we've been given and to make sure natural resources are there for future generations.

One way we're making sure the land is there — literally — is by preventing soil erosion. By employing conservation till and no-till methods, the ground is protected. Contour planting helps save the land, too, by using an area's natural geographic features to slow water runoff and enable the soil to absorb more moisture when it rains.

No-till farming is also good for the air — and we're proud to say that Illinois leads the nation in no-till. No-till reduces the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. No-till also means that farmers don't have to run equipment as much, saving on fuel consumption and reducing carbon emissions.

Advances in technology also have helped us take better care of the land. With GPS systems and computers in our tractors, we can locate to within an inch where we last took soil samples, enabling us to pinpoint where nutrients are needed in our fields. That again means we don't have to run our equipment as much, and it means we're not putting anything in the ground that doesn't need to be there.

One of the knocks against agriculture is the use of genetically modified crops. People say it's not natural. But that seed technology allows us to grow crops that are resistant to pests and are more tolerant of drought. That means less pesticide and fertilizer application. And, of course, if we're not applying as much pesticide and fertilizer, that again means we're not running our tractors as much.

Finally, farmers help the environment by providing raw materials for renewable fuel sources. Not only do farmers allow wind turbines to be constructed on their properties, but they also grow corn, which is used to make ethanol and they grow soybeans, a component of biodiesel. That means fewer carbon-based emissions as well as helping us to free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil. After all, you can grow more corn and soybeans; you can't grow more oil.

There are a lot of other ways in which farmers and ranchers help the environment. I encourage you to visit a farm or ranch and see for yourself all the things we do to take care of our planet.

So when you hear people talk about renewable resources, think of wind, ethanol and soy biodiesel. When you hear people talk about sustainability, think of the land that has been providing us with food for hundreds of years.

When you hear people talk about Earth Day, think of America's farmers.

----------
Philip Nelson is president of the Illinois Farm Bureau.

=======================

A Greener Earth Day

- Henry I. Miller, April 22, 2010 http://www.forbes.com/

The first Earth Day celebration was conceived by then-U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson and held in 1970 as a "symbol of environmental responsibility and stewardship." In the spirit of the time, it was a touchy-feely, consciousness-raising, New Age experience, and most activities were organized at the grassroots level.

More recently, Earth Day has provided an opportunity for environmental Cassandras to prophesy apocalypse, trash technology and proselytize. Passion and zeal trump science. A perennial target at these events is biotechnology applied to agriculture, which one anti-technology activist characterized as threatening "a form of annihilation every bit as deadly as nuclear holocaust." Greenpeace seeks no less than biotech products' "complete elimination [from] the food supply and the environment."

Who could tell from such apocalyptic language that what is at issue are products like pro-vitamin-A-fortified "Golden Rice," which promises to ameliorate the ravages of vitamin A in many poor countries, and papayas, corn and cotton plants genetically improved to give higher yields and resist pests grow under adverse climatic conditions and with less agricultural chemicals.

Activists' eco-babble ignores the scientific consensus that genetic engineering, the newest manifestation of biotechnology, is a refinement of less precise methods of genetic modification that have been applied for centuries. The U.S. National Research Council put the new biotechnology in perspective in a 1989 analysis: "With classical techniques of gene transfer, a variable number of genes can be transferred, the number depending on the mechanism of transfer; but predicting the precise number or the traits that have been transferred is difficult, and we cannot always predict the [characteristics] that will result. With organisms modified by molecular methods, we are in a better, if not perfect, position to predict the [characteristics]."

In other words, the newer techniques are more precise and more predictable and often yield a safer, more useful product.

How well have the genetically engineered crops been accepted? Introduced only 16 years ago, they are the most rapidly adopted agricultural technology in history. In 2009, in 25 countries worldwide, the number of farmers cultivating genetically engineered crops reached 14 million, a 5% increase over 2008; the acreage jumped 7%; and record acreage was reported for the four principal genetically engineered crops--corn, cotton, canola and soy. Cumulative acreage over the past 15 years is more than 2 billion acres. Farmers praise the lessened need for agricultural chemicals--often accompanied by higher yields--and their improved bottom line.

Although far short of their potential, the positive impacts of genetically engineered plants have been monumental. Any innovation that decreases agricultural "inputs"--the factors that contribute to the costs of food production--benefits everyone involved in the path from the dirt to the dinner plate. Increased yields are environmentally important because they obviate the need to put additional land such as forests under cultivation. In addition, genetically engineered plants permit more efficient water usage and encourage wider use of environmentally friendly, no-till cultivation, which decreases soil erosion and releases less CO2 into the atmosphere. (Interestingly, organic farming--which explicitly prohibits the use of genetically engineered plant varieties and is the darling of the environmental movement--has the opposite effect on all these parameters.)

But in spite of these achievements and an extraordinary safety record, biotech has a tough row to hoe. In Europe, there remains widespread public and political opposition to cultivating genetically engineered plants and even to importing grains grown from genetically engineered seeds. Foods from genetically engineered plants have been banished by major supermarket chains. Vandalization of field trials by environmental activists is commonplace--and goes largely unprosecuted. Governments have imposed moratoria on commercial-scale cultivation of plants and regulatory approvals are virtually non-existent.

The situation in India illustrates biotech's vicissitudes. In only seven years, the introduction of pest-resistant, genetically engineered cotton has revolutionized the nation's cotton production--halved insecticide requirements, doubled yield and generated aggregate economic benefit for farmers of more than $5 billion. India has been transformed from a cotton importer to a major exporter.

And yet resistance from activists and bureaucratic intransigence remains. In February India's Minister of Environment and Forests imposed an indefinite moratorium on genetically modified, pest-resistant eggplant, claiming the science wasn't yet proven. His rationale is absurd. The eggplant variety had undergone nine years of intensive testing and scrutiny (much of it gratuitous). Approximately 200 scientists and experts from more than 15 public- and private-sector institutions participated. The application for commercialization passed the review of innumerable governmental panels and committees. Bluntly put, the minister caved in to extreme, anti-technology, anti-social activists.

Where does this leave farmers? Eminent Indian plant scientist C. Kameswara Rao offered this analysis in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: Farmers "lose 50-70% of their annual marketable eggplant yield to two insects--Leucinodes orbonalis and Helicoverpa armigera--which cause severe shoot and fruit damage. The damage inflicted by these pests is carried onto the next crop. The prevalent practice of very high application of synthetic pesticides does not help because the pests live deep inside the stem and fruit tissues. No eggplant variety is resistant to these pests." He concluded: "The government's stand has created huge regulatory uncertainties for no valid scientific reason or environmental concern. No innovator can afford to develop any biotech crop with an uncertain approval process that is divorced from science."

In the United States as well, regulators have imposed overly strict, unscientific rules on agricultural and food research that hinder new product development but in spite of the flawed regulation approvals trickle through.

In the long run, genetic engineering's virtues will convert many of the skeptics, especially when full commercialization of genetically engineered rice begins in China. (Last November, China announced it had approved biotech rice and corn varieties for commercial cultivation.) However, needed regulatory reform will be a struggle. Science and experience be damned, regulators are reluctant to relinquish their bloated bureaucracies, and abominable activists will provide political cover for them. United Nations' agencies' stultifying, unscientific regulatory strictures will be particularly hard to reverse.

Earth Day offers an opportunity for reflection about our planet. Science and technology must play vital roles in both environmental protection and improvement of the human condition, and anyone who mindlessly, summarily rejects them is out of step with the occasion.
---
Henry I. Miller is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He was an official at the National Institutes of Health and Food & Drug Administration.

===================

Biotechnology Makes Agricultural Production More Earth-Friendly

'Greener Farming Means Cleaner Air, Water, Land and Energy'

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, April 22, 2010) - Despite the current and prepdicted agricultural challenges posed by climate change and increased demands on farmland and natural resources, farmers around the world are able to practice Earth-friendly farming thanks to agricultural biotechnology.

In celebration of Earth Day 2010, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) is increasing awareness of the many environmental benefits provided by biotech crops, trees and genetically engineered animals.

Biotechnology provides tools and technologies that provide solutions to many of today's global environmental challenges. Agricultural biotechnology provides environmental benefits by:

* Increasing production yields, thereby reducing pressures to force more land, often marginal and highly erodible land, into production;
* Using biotech herbicide tolerant crops that allow the use of no-till farming practices, enhancing soil moisture content, reducing erosion and limiting carbon dioxide emissions;
* Using biotech crops that need fewer applications of pesticides, and that thrive in a no-till environment, greatly reducing on-farm energy consumption and associated environmental impacts; and
* Reducing waste production from livestock feedlots and concentrated animal agriculture operations via biotechnology-improved feed products and biotech nutritional supplements for livestock.

"The world population is nearly 7 billion people, and that number is expected to reach 9 billion in the next two to three decades. Feeding and fueling a growing planet will require a 70 percent increase in agricultural productivity" said Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, BIO's Executive Vice President for Food and Agriculture. "Biotechnology can help us boost production in an environmentally sustainable way."

Bomer points to a recent report issued by the National Research Council that details the environmental benefits from biotech crops such as reductions in the use of pesticides, and increased use of tillage techniques that reduce soil erosion, water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

"One of the most significant benefits of using biotech crops is the reduction in on-farm energy use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions from no-till farming practices," said Bomer. "In 2007, for example, the 274 million acres of biotech crops resulted in a 31.3 billion pound reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. This is equivalent to removing 6.3 million cars from the road for a year."

But biotechnology is not just helping today's farmers. It also is promising even more solutions to tomorrow's challenges.

In the future, we'll have biotech crops and trees that are more tolerant of environmental stresses such as drought, frost, floods and high-saline soils. We'll see biotech crops that use soil nutrients such as nitrogen more efficiently, reducing the need for fertilizers. We'll see genetically engineered animals that use feed more efficiently and produce less manure. And we'll see more dedicated energy crops and trees and agricultural waste such as cornstalks being used to create bio-based energy.

"Farmers are not defenseless in their struggle against evolving agriculture challenges and we can meet these challenges with solutions that are more environmentally friendly," said Bomer. "Biotechnology will continue to be one of the 'greenest' tools available to help farmers better provide the food, fuel and fiber to serve a growing population."

================

Hundreds of Scientists Petition the Indian Government to Reverse the Ban on Bt Brinjal

- Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, April 23, 2010. http://www.fbae.org

The efficacy and safety of Bt technology have been convincingly demonstrated through over 14 years of commercial cultivation and consumption as food and feed in over 25 countries.

Bt brInjal containing the Cry1Ac gene was developed in a public-private partnership to control the shoot and fruit borers that cause up to 70 per cent loss of marketable yield. Bt brinjal has been in development since 2000 and passed through India’s mandatory biosecurity regulatory regime. It was approved by two Expert Committees, basing on which the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, considered it as safe for human consumption and the environment and that no further testing is necessary and accordingly approved Bt brinjal for commercialization, in October 2009.

Over-riding the statutory body’s decision, the Minister for Environment and Forests, Government of India, went into a process of public consultation and on February 9, 2010, imposed a moratorium of an unspecified period, citing public concerns on its safety. This decision has caused a lot of regulatory uncertainty for no valid scientific reason and retarded development programmes of genetically engineered crops in the country.

The Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council and the Ministers for Agriculture, Science and Technology and Human Resources voiced their concern on MoEF’s decision which led to their meeting with the Prime Minister, who advised that the issue would be sorted out by the GEAC.

There have been protests from concerned scientists the world over on the irrational decision and its effects on Indian agricultural development.

We present here a submission from 540 global scientists to the Minister for Agriculture, Government of India, urging him to intervene and explore how the Indian government can reverse the moratorium and release Bt brinjal for commercial cultivation, in the interests of both the farmer and the consumer. The petition is online at http://www.petitiononline.com/brinjal1/petition.html

The list of scientists along with their comments is at http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?brinjal1


Sincerely,

Professor C. Kameswara Rao, Executive Secretary, FBAE

--

Shri. Sharad Pawar
Honorable Minister of Agriculture
Government of India
Krishi Bhavan
New Delhi
India

Dear Shri Sharad Pawar Ji:

We, the undersigned scientists from India and around the world, urge you to please explore ways to reverse the Ministry of Environment’s recent anti-science decision to place a moratorium on the commercialization of Bt brinjal in India. We agree with you that biotechnology offers much promise in enhancing Indian agriculture and its food security, and that the commercialization of Bt brinjal can play a constructive role in advancing those goals.

Genetically modified (GM) crops are now planted on more than 125 million hectares in India and 24 other countries. They have been shown to increase crop yields, reduce the use of agrochemicals on the farm, and improve the safety and nutritive quality of our foods. Bt brinjal was developed by Indian scientists in India and with a goal to help Indian farmers. As you have clearly pointed out recently, Bt brinjal has been tested thoroughly by Indian scientists and declared safe by India's own regulatory body. The decision to stop the commercialization of Bt brinjal is thus a major blow to Indian science and agriculture, and it seriously curtails the technological choices for Indian plant breeders and farmers in their quest to boost agricultural productivity.

The Ministry of Environment’s decision also has troublesome ramifications beyond Bt brinjal. It has sent a powerful message to the world that India’s decisions on matters of science and technology will not be made on the basis of science and biosafety, but on the decibel strengths of ideologically motivated, anti-science activists. In addition, many other developing countries look for guidance from India’s policy decisions on key development issues, so the decision to halt the commercialization of Bt brinjal has much broader implications beyond India’s borders. Reversing the current moratorium on Bt brinjal would send a very strong encouraging signal to the Indian scientific and agribusiness community that key regulatory decisions involving biosafety would be based on sound scientific judgment. It would also send a message to the world that Indian Government is willing and able to make reasoned decisions on matters of science and technology.

A review of the scientific briefs received by the Minister of Environment shows that the Indian scientific community overwhelming supported the approval of Bt brinjal. Yet, this unfortunate decision was made at the insistence of a small group of senior officials, who have not given any proper scientific reasoning to stop Bt brinjal’s deployment. It further appears that the moratorium will be in force for an indefinite period of time, with no scientific end-point that may trigger the product’s eventual release. The Minister of Environment appears to see no urgency in delivering the fruits of modern biotechnology to poor Indian farmers who deserve and need the best possible quality seeds to improve their productivity.

Leading countries of the world including India along with the USA, Canada, China, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa have all approved GM crops for commercial cultivation. GM food has been consumed by hundreds of millions of people for 15 years now without any harm to human health or the environment. The technology behind GM crops is nearly three decades old, and it has been critically appraised for its safety and environmental impacts by dozens of scientific bodies all around the world.

We humbly suggest that you please consult the leading scientific academies of India to ascertain the prevailing scientific opinion regarding GM crop technology generally, or Bt brinjal in particular. Permitting Indian farmers to grow this variety would contribute tremendously to a reduction in the use of pesticides, therefore improving the health of farm workers and enhancing the quality of food consumed by Indians. This would also represent a considerable forward step towards ensuring the development of Indian science and agriculture. We urge you to intervene and explore how Indian government can reverse this decision. We look forward to your leadership in promoting India’s agricultural progress and in contributing to greater and more sustainable food security.

Sincerely,

(540 scientists)

====================

2010 BIO International Convention to Highlight Climate Change, Global Hunger and Public Perception of Agricultural Biotechnology

http://convention.bio.org

The 2010 BIO International Convention will feature a robust food and agriculture program highlighting the biotechnologies that address global issues such as hunger and climate change as well as the role of policy in the public's ability to benefit from these technologies. Hosted by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the Convention will be held May 3-6, 2010 in Chicago, Ill. at McCormick Place.

BIO will host a special media luncheon on Wednesday, May 5, 2010 featuring Dr. Channapatna S. Prakash, professor of plant molecular genetics at Tuskegee University, who will moderate a discussion on "When Politics Impedes Progress to Combat Hunger."

Luncheon speakers are scheduled to include: * Pam Ronald, Professor of Plant Pathology and Chair of the Plant Genomics Program at the University of California, Davis, and author of the book, Tomorrow's Table
* Michael Specter, New Yorker staff writer and author of Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives.
* Margaret Zeigler, deputy director of the Congressional Hunger Center.

"With biotechnology, we have the tools to address big global challenges like climate change and hunger," said Dr. Prakash. "But, in too many cases, we've seen politics stand in the way. I am thrilled the BIO International Convention is providing us with an opportunity to discuss ways to overcome these hurdles."

"At the 2010 BIO International Convention, individuals from academia, industry and government come together to address how to solve some of the world's most pressing problems through agricultural biotechnology," said Sharon Bomer, executive vice president of the Food and Agriculture Section at the Biotechnology Industry Organization. "This is the perfect time to address how, as an industry, we can ensure that existing and future technologies can be put to work to help the people who so desperately need them."

On the exhibit floor, the Food and Agriculture Pavilion will demonstrate the benefits of plant biotechnology while attendees tackle the seed identification game. Noted experts from academia and industry will be at the Pavilion for media interviews and to take questions from attendees, and Ambassadors from the Future Farmers of America will help guide visitors through the various exhibits and events. Also on the exhibit floor, the BIO Booth will include an exhibit that showcases the benefits of genetically engineered livestock.

A sample of breakout sessions includes:

Ethics and Biotechnology: Genetically Engineered Animals This program will look at both the substance of ethical questions in genetically engineered animals as well as the process of ethical review.

Tuesday May 4, 2010, 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM
Speakers include: Jerry Pommer, Hematech, Inc; Margaret Foster-Riley, University of Virginia School of Law; Alison Van Eenennaam, University of California, Davis; and Paul Thompson, Michigan State University

Next-Generation Technologies-Current State and Outlook This program will examine how plant transformation and genome modification technologies change the way agricultural crops are developed, how advanced are they now, and when the marketplace will see their benefits.

Tuesday May 4, 2010, 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
Speakers include: Neal Gutterson, Mendel Biotechnology; Sharon Berberich, Dow AgroSciences; Otto Folkerts, Chromatin, Inc; and Caius Rommens, J.R. Simplot

New GM Crops: Implications of Asynchronous Approval for International Trade This session will discuss the commercialization of GM crops, "asynchronous approval" of crops across different countries and its potential impact on international trade.

Tuesday May 4, 2010, 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Speakers include: Jack Bobo, U.S. Department of State; James Murphy. U.S. Trade Representative; Jim Borel, DuPont

How Public Perception Affects Adoption of Technologies that Help Feed the World This panel will address the connection between public perception of technologies, such as agricultural biotechnology, and their adoption.

Wednesday May 5, 2010, 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM Speakers include: Sally Squires, Weber Shandwick; Michael Specter, The New Yorker; Margaret Zeigler, Congressional Hunger Center; Kenneth Kamiya, Hawaii Papaya Industry Association; Maywa Montenegro, Seed Magazine; and Bruce Chassy, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

For detailed descriptions and a full program, please visit http://convention.bio.org. Members of the media can register at http://convention.bio.org/media.

=================================

GM Papaya Wins Approval in U.S., Japan

- Henry Cline, Western Farm Press, April 20, 2010 http://westernfarmpress.com

Genetically modified papaya will soon be on the supermarket shelves in Japan just like it now is in the U.S.

This first-ever fresh market GMO food product is not from an American corporate giant. It is the result of tenacious research from a host of scientists and the cooperation of Hawaiian farmers. This rare feat in today’s contentious debate over GMO crops was not accomplished to make a statement. It was to save an important crop for farmers in the impoverished state of Hawaii.

Dennis Gonsalves, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, Hawaii, and professor emeritus of plant pathology at Cornell, detailed to the 63rd annual meeting of the Western Society of Weed Science in Hawaii how Hawaiian agriculture has done what no other ag sector has; win approval to market a genetically modified food crop in the U.S. and Japan.

Gonsalves was the project leader on the successful effort to save Hawaii’s $47 million papaya industry. He is a native Hawaiian raised on a sugar plantation on Hawaii’s Big Island. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Hawaii and a doctorate at the University of California at Davis. He went to Cornell University as an associate professor in 1977. He spent 25 years at Cornell, yet his biggest professional achievement there saved an industry 4,700 miles away in his native island homeland. Gonsalves left Cornell eight years ago to become director of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, Hawaii.

Papaya is the second largest fruit crop in Hawaii. It is grown commercially for export to the U.S. mainland and Japan. Hawaii exports 25 percent to 30 percent of its papaya to Japan. Papaya trees can be severely damaged by the papaya ringspot virus (PRSV), which is rapidly transmitted by aphids. In fact, PRSV is the most serious virus disease of papaya worldwide.

PRSV was discovered in Hawaii in the 1940s. It virtually eliminated large papaya production on Oahu in the 1950s, causing the papaya industry to relocate to the Puna district on the Big Island near Hilo in the early 1960s. Even though PRSV was only 19 miles away from Puna, geographic isolation and diligent surveillance and rouging efforts kept the virus from Puna for years. Puna farmers produce 95 percent of Hawaii’s papaya.

However, most producers and scientists understood PRSV would eventually reach Puna and a research project was started in the late 1980s to develop transgenic papaya to stave off PRSV by using a concept called “pathogen-derived resistance.”

Gonsalves told WSWS members that a gene from the pathogen is used to fight against the pathogen itself. This was done using a “gene gun,” that can literally “shoot” genetic information obtained from one kind of organism into cells of another. The first promising transgenic papaya line was identified in 1991. A small scale field trial was initiated on Oahu the next year, the same year PRSV was first found in Puna.

The Oahu trial proved successful in identifying papaya highly resistant to PRSV. Timing could not be better since by late 1994, nearly half of Puna’s papaya acreage was infected and a number of farmers were going out of business. Rapidly evolving research produced commercial, transgenic papaya varieties SunUp and Rainbow.

With the Hawaii papaya industry facing imminent demise, the industry went to APHIS, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and by September 1997 won approval to commercialize transgenic papaya. A year later transgenic seed was made available to growers.

The papaya growers turned their attention to winning Japanese approval to market the transgenic papaya there, since Japan was a key market for Hawaiian papaya. However, Japan has not been inclined to accept transgenic agricultural products.

Gonsalves admitted at the WSWS conference that Japan’s regulatory approval process is “tough,” but it is not “political.” Hawaiian papaya growers won Japan’s approval to export papaya there. Japan will begin accepting transgenic papaya this year, Gonsalves said, because the Hawaiians provided all the information and scientific data Japan required.

=====================

The Survey on Biotechnology Capacity in Asia-Pacific: Opportunities for National Initiatives and Regional Cooperation

- Sachin Chaturvedi Krishna and Ravi Srinivas, UNESCO, Jakarta. Download at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001874/187493e.pdf

The report "maps the contours and directions of biotechnology development in the Asia-Pacific region, identifies the strengths and weaknesses and suggests measures to be taken by governments, donors, multilateral and UN agencies and industry, in order to ensure that the region benefits most from biotechnology."

The document analyzes the state of biotechnology development in the following countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Lao, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. Its key recommendations are:

* Take measures including adequate financial support, to enhance the productivity of the National Innovation Systems; * Perform Technology Assessments taking into account the resources, structural constraints and capacity to innovate and engage in advanced research in biotechnology;
* Promote South-South co-operation for wider diffusion of biotechnology; * Develop regional networks in biotechnology so that technological gap among countries can be minimized;
* More support from multilateral agencies, including UN agencies, in identifying needs, strengthening institutional capacity, developing regulatory regimes and enhancing capacity of National Agricultural Research Systems' in biotechnology;
* Encourage growth of Small and Medium Enterprises in biotechnology and promote biotechnology entrepreneurship; * Regional co-operation for implementation of regulatory regimes to be encouraged;
* Provide a supporting framework through funding for infrastructure, investment in human resources development; * Promote commercialization of research by universities and research institutes, and Public-Private Partnerships in biotechnology, taking into account the access to knowledge and the need to balance public and private interests.

================

Retirement of Dr. Ron Phillips

Prof. Ronald L. Phillips of University of Minnesota is retiring after 42 years on the faculty of the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics. He has advised over 60 graduate theses and 23 postdoctoral scientists, and taught a course in plant genetics as a faculty member in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics.

Throughout his career, Dr. Phillips has coupled the techniques of plant genetics and molecular biology to enhance our understanding of basic biology of cereal crops and to improve these species by innovative methods. His research program at the University of Minnesota was one of the early programs in modern plant biotechnology related to agriculture.

As Regents Professor and member of the National Academy of Sciences, he participated in addressing University-wide, national, and international issues. He recently received the Medal for Science from the University of Bologna, Italy, and will soon receive the University of Minnesota Siehl Prize.

A symposium in his honor has been scheduled at UMN on April 24. See http://agronomy.cfans.umn.edu/Ronald_Phillips_Retirement_Dinner.html

AgBioWorld thanks this great scientist and professor for his profound contributions, and wishes him well on his retirement.

=============

Prof. Jonathan Gressel, Chief Scientific Officer of TransAlgae Ltd., Receives the Israel Prize for Agricultural Research

TEL-AVIV, Israel, April 22, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- Prof. Jonathan Gressel, Chief Scientific Officer of TransAlgae Ltd., was the recipient of the 2010 "Israel Prize" in agriculture, Israel's top science award.. Prof. Gressel is an internationally renowned expert in plant biotechnology, and has carried out important studies in understanding the mechanisms that allow the successful control of weeds and how weeds evolve resistance, on how to prevent gene flow, as well as on crop domestication. One of Prof. Gressel's scientific solutions while at the Weizmann Institute of Science is commercially applied for the control of the parasitic Striga (witchweed) in Africa.

Prof. Gressel is now the CSO of TransAlgae Ltd., which was founded in 2008 to develop and commercialize genetically engineered algae. These algae are being optimized to grow in various water sources and utilize industrially emitted carbon-dioxide and cost-effectively produce oil, protein and other co-products.

"We believe that genetically engineered, domesticated algae provide the best, large-scale, sustainable solution to the multiple resource limitations that the global economy is experiencing. My research on the molecular mechanisms of herbicide resistance in plants and on bio-safety issues is already being applied by TransAlgae scientists to modify algae, providing process stability in algae growth and harvesting which are barriers that must be overcome in the industry. Atop this platform genes are being engineered to increase yield and quality of products," said Prof. Gressel.

=============

Celebrate Free Market Earth Day

- Iain Murray, Daily Caller, April 22, 2010 http://dailycaller.com/

It makes sense to set aside a day to celebrate our planet. Unfortunately, that is not what Earth Day is about. Instead, it is a day to celebrate public policies that have had disastrous consequences—both for humanity and for the environment. If we want to celebrate the environment and humanity, then let’s celebrate Free Market Earth Day and promote the principles of Free Market Environmentalism (FME).

In the 40 years since the first Earth Day, command-and-control environmental policies (many well intentioned) have racked up a shocking butcher’s bill of unintended consequences. From the ban on DDT, which led to millions of malaria deaths in Africa, to ethanol mandates, which have increased food prices and led to hunger around the world, the impacts of environmental policies often go unacknowledged—and unaddressed.

The ban on DDT was the environmental movement’s first great triumph. The ban stemmed from a legitimate concern over the effects of the agricultural overuse of DDT on birds, but it went far beyond what was necessary to address that problem.

DDT is still very effective against the carriers of diseases like malaria, as the World Health Organization acknowledges. However, a de facto ban on its use has come about because any contamination of agricultural produce by DDT can lead developed nations to impose trade sanctions.

This means that a Ugandan farmer, who typically stores his produce in his house before shipping it, cannot spray DDT inside his home in order to protect his family unless he wants to give up his livelihood. This has led to widespread malaria in Africa and needless deaths of hundreds of thousands—all because of the demands of the so-called environmental movement.

The large gap in political and economic development between wealthy nations and developing ones has created a two-tier global system that has rightly been termed “eco-imperialism.” Western fears—often exaggerated or unfounded—end up disparately impacting the lives of families thousands of miles away.

In addition to the unconscionable longtime ban on DDT for malaria prevention, unscientific opposition to genetically modified agriculture—again fostered by the environmental movement—now threatens to disastrously set back the race to feed a growing world population.

The solutions to many of these problems need to come from two areas.

First, donor nations must abandon the idea that a small elite of international bureaucrats knows what’s best for every country in the world—that the same risks and trade-offs that make sense for the United States and Europe are equally valid in Senegal, Paraguay and Bhutan.

Second, we need to create a far greater role for private ownership and property rights in environmental policy. Allowing individuals and local communities to exercise legal ownership of natural resources gives them a potent motive to act sustainably. There’s a reason why Bengal tigers are critically endangered and domesticated cattle are not, despite high levels of demand for products from both animals.

Ownership is key to stewardship. That is the central insight of Free Market Environmentalism. The Cuyahoga River did not catch fire because someone owned it and misused it, but because no one owned it and so no one could stop others from misusing it as a dump.

Time and again, collective ownership leads to environmental degradation. Yet collective ownership is the preferred solution of the environmental movement. Large swathes of land in the United States have been brought into public ownership, ostensibly to protect them. The result is all too often mismanagement and wildfires that destroy the land which private owners had previously managed sensibly and beneficially.

The only plausible explanation for why so-called environmentalists cling to this model is ideology. It is an ideology that pays well. This year, the group Freedom Action took out advertisements in Washington, D.C., newspapers that detailed the salaries of the leaders of major environmental groups. They ranged from $300,000 to just under $600,000. For some people, Earth Day is Pay Day.

The time has come to jettison the stale ideas of 1970s environmentalism. We need to celebrate the Earth without wrecking human lives. Free Market Environmentalism is an idea whose time has come.

This year should see the first Free Market Earth Day. April 22 is Lenin’s Birthday. To clearly draw the contrast, a great day to celebrate FME Day would be June 16, the baptismal day of the father of free market thinking, Adam Smith,

It is time to wrest the holiday from the control of ideologues who have grown rich from exploiting people’s environmental fears. Free Market Earth Day would be a holiday the whole world could enjoy.