Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





April 26, 2010


Consult Scientists, Not Public; Déjà vu All Over Again; GM Rice Healthier; French and German GMO-gate; Environmentalism as Religion


* India: Consult Scientists, Not Public, On Bt Brinjal
* The Biotech Cradle is Ready to Rock
* Déjà vu All Over Again - Kenya's Refusal of South African Maize
* GM Rice Healthier Than Non-GM Rice
* UN Launches Biotech Network for Developing Countries
* French and German GMO-gate?
* Full paper access: Exposure and Nontarget Effects of Transgenic Bt Corn
* Video Interview with Dr Gebisa Ejeta: Scientific Innovations in Agriculture
* Environmentalism as Religion


India: Consult Scientists, Not Public, On Bt Brinjal, Pawar Told

- The HIndu (Bangalore), April 24, 2010 http://beta.thehindu.com

More than 540 scientists from India and around the world have signed a petition urging Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar to "explore ways to reverse" the moratorium on the commercialisation of Bt brinjal in India.

Describing the moratorium by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) as an "anti-science decision," the petition says that genetically modified (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 petition was drafted by the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education (FBAE).

"Bt brinjal has been given the all-clear by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee. But Jairam Ramesh has based his decision on public opinion and not on scientific reason," said C. Kameswara Rao, executive secretary of FBAE, at a press conference here on Friday.

The petition urged the Minister to "consult leading scientific academies of India" on GM crop technology and Bt brinjal. The Indian scientific community is overwhelmingly in support of Bt brinjal. The MoEF's decision has ramifications beyond Bt brinjal as 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," states the petition. The MoEF "appears to see no urgency in delivering the fruits of modern biotechnology to poor farmers." Increased yield

GM crops are now planted on more than 125 million hectares in India and other countries and have been shown to increase crop yields, reduce the use of agrochemicals, and improve the nutritive quality of foods, says the plea. Several countries, including the U.S., have approved GM crops for commercial cultivation.


The Biotech Cradle is Ready to Rock

- Owen Roberts, Guelph Mercury (Canada), April 26, 2010 http://news.guelphmercury.com/

Canadians spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to crack the lucrative European market for agriculture and food products. After all, there’s about 825 million Europeans, a huge consuming public. Canada is committed to expanding its trading parameters, so it doesn’t have to rely so much on the U.S. That makes Europe, where many of our roots lay, a big drawing card.

Europeans, though, aren’t big fans of biotechnology. They never embraced it the way North America did. And despite about 20 years of apparently safe production and consumption here, some people still aren’t convinced.

But don’t tell that to the good people of Ghent. Ghent is popularly called Europe’s Cradle of Biotechnology. Tucked away in north Belgium, it’s distinguished by numerous biotechnology initiatives including the Institute Agriculture and Fisheries Research, a Flemish scientific institute.

Last week, a small army of scientists from the institute were more than happy to crawl out of bed on a sunny Sunday morning, and come into work to enthusiastically explain their biotechnology-based feed-the-world activities to a group of 120 agricultural journalists from around the world. I was among them, visiting as part of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists annual congress, held this year in Belgium — and next year in Canada, in Guelph and Niagara Falls, in September.

The Belgian researchers are singing from the same hymn book as Guelph scientists, and, indeed, researchers everywhere. They say we need to double our efforts to feed the world. The global population is growing so much that there’ll be millions more people for farmers to look after.

But at the same time, world wealth is growing too, as is the hunger for protein. Simultaneously, alternative feedstocks for biofuels are needed so food crops aren’t diverted for energy. And on top of it all, climate change in some form is likely going to alter the way farmers grow crops and raise livestock. It’s all adding up.

Biotechnology is part of the answer. It’s at the forefront of science in Ghent, driven by a mercurial figure of near legendary status in Europe and among plant scientists, Dr. Marc Van Montagu. He’s credited with significant contributions to the likes of transgenic corn and tobacco, and he holds a crowd spellbound when he steps up to the microphone. “There is not the slightest danger for health or environment with all the genetically modified plants out there now,” he says. “We need them badly.”

But in Europe, policy-makers are unconvinced. They say safety is still in question, despite documented facts to the contrary. As a result, the researchers sometimes feel like they’re chasing their tails. “We are spending a lot of money checking the safety of something we already know is safe,” says Dr. Marc De Loose, a research scientist at the institute.

However, biotechnology supporters are pretty sure there’s change in the wind. Although the European public still waffles about accepting biotechnology, Ghent is moving ahead with an initiative similar to the University of Guelph Research Park, except all about biotechnology. It’s driven by startup companies that have been squirreled away, working diligently on advances in the likes of functional foods and nutraceuticals, waiting for their own market to open up.

It will take a brave political party to make that happen. But Van Montagu is right. New answers are needed to meet emerging needs. New technologies can help, and with the advantages biotech crops offer — resistance to diseases, insects and drought, along with higher production — it’s just a matter of time before Europe opens up.
Owen Roberts teaches agricultural communications.


Déjà vu All Over Again - Kenya's Refusal of South African Maize

- Peter Wamboga-Mugirya, AgBioView, http://www.agbioworld.org April 26, 2010

I wish to raise the issue of Kenya denying entry/delivery of GM maize consignment anchored at Mombasa Port.

The first consignment of the shipment is locked up at Mombasa Port [for about two weeks] and denied entry after a coalition of anti-biotech activists in Kenya lobbied it on grounds, that among others, the GM maize contaminates Kenya's gene pool and soils!

Since their introduction more than twelve years ago, much has been debated and written about genetically modified (GM) crops: the benefits and risks and the threats (mostly perceived) they could pose to humankind and the environment.

And after a decade of introduction, consumption and wider-scale cultivation-which is enlarging every year not only in developed, but also in developing countries including Africa (South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso), Kenya has examples at its disposal to enquire from, whether GM seeds contaminate soils as NGOs opposed to the shipment are alleging. Even soils in Kenya on which GM crops have been experimented such Confined Field Trial (CFT) sites at KARI Nairobi and Thika, should be the first line of evidence/defence against or for GMOs.

GM cotton, Bt maize and Bt cotton, cassava have been grown there and these soils should be subjected to independent and thorough tests to verify what I regard as outrageous claims that GM seeds contaminate soils. With what? Where has it happened as evidence? A report in the Business Daily of Kenya carries such outlandish allegations in an article titled: Controversy over GMO maize import deepens [dated: April 21, 2010 - Wednesday].

Why should anyone engage in activism that does not carry truth in what they say, but they enjoy as fantasy? If one says GM seeds contaminate soils, one should elaborate with what the seeds have as contaminants-are they chemicals, pathogens (parasites in form of fungus, viruses or bacteria?) or what is it that which contaminates soil?

This maize has been rejected because some European-funded Kenyan NGOs say the grain can contaminate soils! Besides their information being misleading, it should be viewed as a crime against sound-science and against humanity for one or group of people, to engage in blockage or opposition of food supplies derived from GM seeds with unsubstantiated claims meant to tarnish an otherwise harmless technology. It should be very painful to any level-thinking person, especially Kenyans and harmful to scientists for a country that is starving, but has a big cadre of experts who can give sound-evidence-based scientific unbiased information on GMOs.

No scientist or scientific organisation have come forward to refute the anti-biotechs' claims and explain issues. Everybody is now coiling their tails and reason is at the mercy of the anti-biotechs' lies and falsehoods, without any scientific backing, but have coined lies which they are peddling in a very strategic manner and language. This has effectively frightened the Kenyan Government and public into silence and dejection!!

After they 'successfully' campaigned against India's Brinjal, now they're in Kenya and are laughing all the way to their European backers and GreenPeace, yet Kenyans are starving moreover their country has always [annually] received maize donations from WFP and purchased other shipments--all containing GM maize.

The anti-biotech groups are receiving more money to enter into Uganda and Tanzania to do the same they're doing in Kenya now--because our countries (especially Uganda) is doing rapid research with many GM crops in CFTs--soon moving into translocational site and selected farmers' trials before they mature for seed multiplication and commercialization. But this wont be possible if a regional leader like Kenya, things are like that--they have the biotech law in place (unlike Uganda and Tanzania), they have a National Biosafety Authority (NBA) and regulations, but lack the backbone to defend their actions, and the South African maize importations have been inspected and certified by the Kenya Plant Health Inspection Services (KEPHIS) as safe for human and animal consumption.

People should not continue to starve after poor cereal yields when the country can import or receive food donations. Such a scenario developed in Zambia some years ago, and similarly there was no concrete evidence moreover a Head of State led such a campaign against the maize consignment, while his subjects were starving.

Its until, the issues I have raised are verified, the shipload at Mombasa should be released and GM maize used for whatever purpose it was ordered/exported from South Africa.

Peter is at the Science Foundation for
Livelihoods and Development (Scifode), Kampala, Uganda


GM Rice Healthier Than Non-GM Rice

- David Tribe, GMO Pundit, April 26, 2010 http://gmopundit.blogspot.com

Much starch taken in food is digested rapidly before it reaches the lower gut or colon. Some forms of starch -- known as resistant starch -- survive digestion by upper gut enzymes much better, and provide the lower gut (colon) bacteria with carbohydrate sources that they can ferment to food acids. Fermentation of food carbohydrate such as resistant starch and fibre in the lower intestine is a favourable process as far as human health is concerned. Overall, resistant starch is more slowly digested to soluble sugars, and sugar uptake into the bloodstream by the body from dietary resistant starch is more gradual than from non-resistant starch. This gradual uptake of digestion products of starch (or other food carbohydrates such as fibre) leads to more moderate changes in blood glucose and blood insulin after meals.

Genetic engineering makes it relatively straightforward to produce rice, wheat, and other cereals in which the starch is resistant (e.g. Regina et al 2006). Non-resistant starch is more highly branched and by simply turning off the gene that creates starch branching, the residual starch is non-branched and more resistant to digestion.

In this new dietary and health study by Li M, Piao JH, Tian Y, Li WD, Li KJ, and Yang XG (2010), Chinese scientists compared rice that had been genetically engineered to have high levels of resistant starch with a conventional non-resistant rice variety in eating trials with human volunteers. They measured a number of blood parameters and indicators of rates of starch digestion, and confirmed that in these healthy human volunteers, genetically engineered rice was more slowly digested and over time gives more moderate rates of human uptake into the blood of starch-derived sugar, and gives more moderate peaks in insulin levels in the blood of the volunteers after meals.

These measurements confirm the idea that genetic engineering of rice to improve its content of resistant starch results in more favourable -- that is to say healthy -- blood chemistry, which is commonly represented by the food measure known as the GI index. Recently there have been substantial scientific reports using mouse models of disease confirming that the process of slow digestion of food carbohydrates such as resistant starch or food fibre tends to decrease inflammation in the animal body and thus decrease the potential for chronic inflammatory diseases such as colitis, arthritis, and asthma because of generation by gut bacteria of fermentation fatty acids such as acetic acid, butyric acid, and propionic acid (known as short chain fatty acids, SCFAs). These bacterially produced acidic fermentation products are important nutrient sources for cells lining the gut, and can moderate the activities of the immune system (Maslowski et al 2009). These research findings in mice (Maslowski et al 2009) are highly relevant to human colitis, arthritis, and asthma, as are the encouraging findings on human volunteers eating genetically engineered rice reported by the Chinese team.


UN Launches Biotech Network for Developing Countries

- Carol Campbell, Scidev.net, April 22, 2010

Developing countries wanting to make more of their biotechnology resources are the target of a network launched by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

The International Industrial Biotechnology Network (IIBN) will help local universities and small-to-medium enterprises to develop and improve existing biotechnology products. It will also encourage further bio-prospecting.

George Tzotzos, IIBN programme co-ordinator, told SciDev.Net that the network would provide biotechnology support and access to high-level technologies for developing countries wanting to make better use of their existing biological resources. "In Bahia [Brazil] this could mean taking a fresh look at a plant like the castor bean, which is used for medicinal and industrial purposes and is being considered as a potential source of bio-fuel for local use," he said.

Tzotzos added that a major hurdle for developing countries that wish to sell biotechnology products in Europe is meeting the European Union's stringent safety standards and maintaining a high product quality. "Many products from the developing world are produced using low grade technology and, because of this, their full potential [in market share] is never realised," he said. "Often quality is not maintained between shipments of a product, and consumers eventually lose confidence in the product.

"It is at this point that we can help, by making connections and establishing mutually beneficial partnerships. "This programme will help the developing world access existing markets and build [capacity] to ensure maximum return for their effort," he added.

Ivan Ingelbrecht, project manager for the IIBN and based at Ghent University, Belgium, said the network would serve as a catalyst for establishing North–South and South–South partnerships. "There is a biotechnology skills base in Flanders [Belgium] that we can tap into immediately. The role of the network is match-making and, if needed, co-ordination," he said.

The IIBN — launched in Austria last month (29 March) — is funded by the Flemish Ministry for Innovation, Public Investment, Media and Poverty Reduction, in Belgium. The ministry is providing core funding of US$1.66 million (EUR 1.25 million) over the next five years, but network members will be asked to contribute as well. Already, Brazil's Bahia state has pledged to donate a further US$3.5 million.

The network will be co-ordinated by the Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries, Belgium, and supervised by a scientific and technological advisory panel and a steering committee. Initial members include organisations from Belgium, Brazil and Israel. China and Peru are still discussing their partnerships with the network, and IIBN plans to target Africa for collaborations later this year.


French and German GMO-gate?

- Marcel Kuntz, Laboratoire de Physiologie Cellulaire Végétale, Grenoble cedex - France (kuntz-at-ujf-grenoble.fr)

Agnès Ricroch, Jean-Baptiste Bergé and Marcel Kuntz examined the justifications invoked by the French Government in January/February 2008 and by the German Government in April 2009 to suspend the cultivation of the genetically modified maize MON810. To read their recent article in ISB News Report (page 8): http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2010/Apr10.pdf

The circumstances surrounding the French Government's decision and two meta-analyses by J.B. Bergé and A. Ricroch of the "scientific" arguments commissioned by the French Government can be found at: http://www.marcel-kuntz-ogm.fr/article-germany-france-45973948.html

Conclusions: Neither government has provided scientific data justifying its ban. Both governments have deliberately commissioned biased reports, with an incomplete set of scientific references and presenting false conclusions on an environmental impact of MON810 to satisfy a political agenda.


Exposure and Nontarget Effects of Transgenic Bt Corn Debris in Streams by Jensen, PD et al.

The full article is available at



Video Interview with Dr Gebisa Ejeta: Scientific Innovations in Agriculture

- Insights, Canada's biotechnology industry magazine

Dr. Gebisa Ejeta is the Winner of the 2009 World Food Prize. The interview has two components: a series of 3 videos and and a written interview. Topics include the role of public-private partnerships in moving agricultural innovation forward; the next 20 years in innovation; the value of science in solving global ag. problems. The goal of the videos is to provide short informative snapshots about what scientific innovation can accomplish in agriculture.



Environmentalism as Religion

- Paul H. Rubin, Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2010 http://online.wsj.com

'While people have worshipped many things, we may be the first to build shrines to garbage.'

Many observers have made the point that environmentalism is eerily close to a religious belief system, since it includes creation stories and ideas of original sin. But there is another sense in which environmentalism is becoming more and more like a religion: It provides its adherents with an identity.

Scientists are understandably uninterested in religious stories because they do not meet the basic criterion for science: They cannot be tested. God may or may not have created the world—there is no way of knowing, although we do know that the biblical creation story is scientifically incorrect. Since we cannot prove or disprove the existence of God, science can't help us answer questions about the truth of religion as a method of understanding the world.

But scientists, particularly evolutionary psychologists, have identified another function of religion in addition to its function of explaining the world. Religion often supplements or replaces the tribalism that is an innate part of our evolved nature.

Original religions were tribal rather than universal. Each tribe had its own god or gods, and the success of the tribe was evidence that their god was stronger than others.

But modern religions have largely replaced tribal gods with universal gods and allowed unrelated individuals from outside the tribe to join. Identification with a religion has replaced identification with a tribe. While many decry religious wars, modern religion has probably net reduced human conflict because there are fewer tribal wars. (Anthropologists have shown that tribal wars are even more lethal per capita than modern wars.)

It is this identity-creating function that environmentalism provides. As the world becomes less religious, people can define themselves as being Green rather than being Christian or Jewish.

Consider some of the ways in which environmental behaviors echo religious behaviors and thus provide meaningful rituals for Greens:

* There is a holy day—Earth Day.

* There are food taboos. Instead of eating fish on Friday, or avoiding pork, Greens now eat organic foods and many are moving towards eating only locally grown foods.

* There is no prayer, but there are self-sacrificing rituals that are not particularly useful, such as recycling. Recycling paper to save trees, for example, makes no sense since the effect will be to reduce the number of trees planted in the long run.

* Belief systems are embraced with no logical basis. For example, environmentalists almost universally believe in the dangers of global warming but also reject the best solution to the problem, which is nuclear power. These two beliefs co-exist based on faith, not reason.

* There are no temples, but there are sacred structures. As I walk around the Emory campus, I am continually confronted with recycling bins, and instead of one trash can I am faced with several for different sorts of trash. Universities are centers of the environmental religion, and such structures are increasingly common. While people have worshipped many things, we may be the first to build shrines to garbage.

* Environmentalism is a proselytizing religion. Skeptics are not merely people unconvinced by the evidence: They are treated as evil sinners. I probably would not write this article if I did not have tenure.

Some conservatives spend their time criticizing the way Darwin is taught in schools. This is pointless and probably counterproductive. These same efforts should be spent on making sure that the schools only teach those aspects of environmentalism that pass rigorous scientific testing. By making the point that Greenism is a religion, perhaps we environmental skeptics can enlist the First Amendment on our side. --- Mr. Rubin is a professor of economics at Emory University. He is the author of "Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom" (Rutgers University Press, 2002).