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June 28, 2010


How Risky Is It, Really? Europeans Keep Talking; Judging the Facts; Healthy Eating; Champion of Healthy Eating; Philippine Eggplant


* How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Match the Facts
* ESFA Meets Member State Experts on Environmental Risk Assessment of GM Plants
* Judging the Facts About Biotechnology
* Conservation Farming Practices and Enhancing Environmental Sustainability with Ag Biotech
* Robb Fraley: Monsanto is a Champion of Healthy Eating
* Philippines the First in Asia to Commercialize GM Eggplant
* INIA Disproves Claim of Illegally Planted Transgenic Maize in Peru
* A Case for GM Crops
* Speaking Up for Biotechnology


How Risky Is It, Really? - Why our fears don't always match the facts

- David Ropeik, Psychology Today, June 28, 2010 http://www.psychologytoday.com

'Uh, Oh. FrankenSalmon! Why is genetically modified food so scary?'

The psychology of risk perception is really powerful when it concerns food. Imagine sitting down to a lovely meal of grilled salmon, firm, moist, delicious…and genetically engineered. Does that sound different than firm, moist, delicious wild salmon? Or firm, moist, delicious farm-raised salmon? Probably. But why. Salmon is salmon is salmon right?

Well, no, you might say. With genetic engineering there might be a gene in there from a peanut or a potato or a pig. They can mix anything they want together these days. What if I told you that the only genes in the entire salmon, are salmon genes. The genetic engineering just took genes from one species that matures faster, the Chinook, and put them in the Atlantic salmon which people like to eat and which can be farm-raised and mass produced, so the salmon grows to its normal size faster. (They also put in a gene from a salmon relative, the ocean pout, to turn the Chinook growth gene on.)

But wait, you say. There was nothing on the label that said it was genetically engineered. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration long ago ruled that food that is the same after genetic engineering as it was before is, well, the same, so it doesn’t have to be labeled as different. It’s like milk produced from cows injected with Bovine Growth Hormone, the natural hormone from cows that stimulates milk production. Put more BGH in the cow and you get more milk, but the milk is the same milk. Well, this is the same salmon.

But wait, you say. These genetically engineered salmon could interbreed with wild salmon, and then humans are messing with nature. To avoid just that problem, the genetically engineered salmon will only be sold as eggs, to companies that breed their salmon in inland tanks. Oh, and the eggs will produce females that are sterile.

But wait, you say. The government won’t release all the documents on how this genetically engineered fish is being produced. The FDA says that’s because it regulates genetic modification of food the same way it regulates new pharmaceuticals. To protect companies that invest billions developing new drugs, trade secrets are kept secret. (So are the formula for Coke and the recipe for Thomas’s English Muffins, by the way, and we eat those industrially produced foods.)

That’s a lot of “Yeah, buts….” before you finally dig into the salmon, albeit hesitantly. What’s all the hesitation about? Do you know all you need to know about how genetic engineering is done to make a fully informed rational choice about this perceived risk? No? Do you have all the time to go learn up on it, or all the background knowledge and smarts you’ll need to understand all that science? Nope. Then, if we’re talking about a judgment that is not purely rational, i.e. purely fact-based, where do these fears come from?

The perception of genetically modified food is like the perception of any risk, a combination of the facts and how those facts feel, a mix of reason and gut reaction. GM food has several unique characteristics that psychologists have determined make some things feel scarier than others. It’s human-made, and that alone makes it scarier than a risk that’s natural. We’re more afraid of what we can’t detect ourselves, what we don’t understand, and what we’re exposed to involuntarily (remember your complaint about no labels?). We depend on the government to keep us safe, but we don’t completely trust the government, and that lack of trust feeds greater worry (ergo the complaints about secrets).

None of this has anything to do with the fact that the genetically modified salmon is 100% salmon, just grown up faster. But the psychological lenses of risk perception ,through which we filter what information we do have, mean that genetically modified food that is essentially identical to the natural kind, which offers the promise of more sustainable production of more protein at less cost, is going to bump up against resistance from people who, as we all do to some degree, just naturally worry about risks that are human-made, hard to understand, invisible and undetectable, imposed on us, and that a not-completely trusted bureaucracy is supposed to protect us from.

The opponents will argue all those facts that you just argued a few moments ago, but it will be their (our) underlying perception psychology doing the talking. It will be interesting, a few years from now, to listen in on the conversation they have with friends who invite them for dinner, and serve salmon.


How Risk Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Match the Facts

- new book by David Ropeik, Hardcover: 288 pages, McGraw-Hill; February 8, 2010 * ISBN-10: 0071629696, Amazon.com $16.47

International risk expert David Ropeik takes an in-depth look at our perceptions of risk and explains the hidden factors that make us unnecessarily afraid of relatively small threats and not afraid enough of some really big ones. This read is a comprehensive, accessible, and entertaining mixture of what's been discovered about how and why we fear—too much or too little. It brings into focus the danger of The Perception Gap: when our fears don’t match the facts, and we make choices that create additional risks.

This book will not decide for you what is really risky and what isn't. That's up to you. HOW RISKY IS IT, REALLY? will tell you how you make those decisions. Understanding how we perceive risk is the first step toward making wiser and healthier choices for ourselves as individuals and for society as a whole.
David Ropeik is an international consultant and widely sought-after public speaker on risk perception and risk communication. Ropeik is an instructor at the Harvard University Extension School's Environmental Management Program and taught risk perception and risk communication at Harvard School of Public Heath


European Food Safety Authority Meets Member State Experts on Environmental Risk Assessment of GM Plants

- Seed Quest, June 17, 2010 http://www.seedquest.com/

EFSA scientists held a day of discussions with experts from Member States on the newest scientific developments and approaches to assess possible environmental risks from genetically modified (GM) plants. Experts in the field of environmental risk assessment of GM plants from Member State authorities and members of GMO Panel Working Groups reviewed a guidance document outlining how EFSA carries out its environmental risk assessment (ERA) of GM plants and the data requirements which must be met by applicants.

Participants at the technical meeting held in Berlin discussed comments made by Member States following a public consultation on the draft EFSA guidance document as well as a draft scientific opinion addressing the specific issue of non-target organisms (NTOs)[1]. The meeting was webcastlive on EFSA’s website.

EFSA’s GMO Panel continuously seeks to ensure that its risk assessment approach reflects the scientific state-of-the-art in its guidance to applicants It regularly reviews all its guidance documents on GM plants with updates made in 2005, 2006 and 2008. Since 2007, the GMO Panel has been further developing and strengthening its environmental risk assessment (ERA) which is now the subject of the separate guidance document discussed in Berlin. This focuses on potential long-term environmental effects, the potential effects on non-target organisms, and criteria for setting up field trials, taking into account the diverse environments where the GM plant will be cultivated.

”The ERA should follow a step-by-step approach, according to the clearly defined framework laid out in the guidance. Each GMO is unique and must be assessed individually. This requires specific evaluation of the plant, its traits, how it will be used and its possible interactions with the receiving environment,” said Professor Salvatore Arpaia, chair of the GMO Panel’s Working Group on Non-Target Organisms.

When carrying out their assessment, independent experts of EFSA’s GMO Panel use their extensive knowledge and wide experience in evaluating the data provided by applicants as well as all other available scientific literature.

More than 250 comments were received from Member States during the public consultation of the draft ERA guidance. At the meeting, EFSA experts explained specific areas which have to be addressed by applicants and experts carrying out the risk assessment. These include: the possibility of gene transfer between the plant and micro-organisms, the potential invasiveness of the plant itself; the plant’s potential effects on: human and animal health, including both target and non-target organisms; and the implications for cultivation, management and harvesting techniques.

With respect to NTOs, the draft opinion of the GMO Panel sets out proposals on the criteria for the selection of NTOs and advice on testing methodology. EFSA’s Working Group on NTOs considered the impact of GM plants on invertebrates and also took account of ecosystems that could be altered.

This meeting follows technical discussions during the preparation of the ERA and NTO opinions held last year with Member States and stakeholders such as applicants, environmental groups and non-governmental organisations.[2]

EFSA works closely with Member States in the environmental risk assessment of GMOs; for instance, for cultivation applications for GM plants, an initial environmental risk assessment is carried out by one Member State, which can be assisted by and share expertise with other Member States.

EFSA engages in dialogue with Member States and takes into consideration comments they may have.[3] The discussions at the Berlin meeting will help inform EFSA’s GMO Panel and its Working Groups in view of finalising the documents which are due to be adopted and published by November 2010.


Judging the Facts About Biotechnology

- Reg Clause, AgWeb, June 25, 2010 http://www.agweb.com (Jefferson, IA - Board member, Truth About Trade & Technology)

In the Supreme Court’s first-ever ruling on genetically modified crops, the justices issued a resounding decision in favor of biotechnology. The Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision to impose a nationwide ban on GM alfalfa.

The Supreme Court is famous for its 5-4 split decisions, especially in cases that generate political controversy. The alfalfa ruling, however, was no nail-biter. The justices ruled 7-1 in favor of biotechnology.

The case marks a clear victory for American farmer choice in the matter of biotech seed. It affirms the idea that relevant government agencies and regulators set the rules that govern agriculture – and those rules must be science-based. The United States has benefited since its founding from a process of lawmaking and regulatory rules making. When this is subverted by finding friendly courts or endlessly clogging our processes with frivolous suits, nobody benefits except the very narrow interest groups who happen to oppose progress.

Technically, the ruling in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms was procedural. Important legal and regulatory decisions lie ahead as the Department of Agriculture finishes an environmental assessment of GM alfalfa. Farmers like myself agree with a robust and continuous process that assures me and all Americans that our food is safe and always available.

Yet the case also sets farmers on a course that may allow them to take full advantage of what GM alfalfa has to offer and opens up the possibility for plantings to begin within a few months.

Those opposing biotechnology obviously were hoping for a different result. For them, resorting to litigation was a desperate maneuver. They’ve lost significant battles over GM crops in just about every other arena.

Farmers across the country are adopting and planting GM crops as soon as they become available because the value is there in improved productivity and quality. This spring marks the 15th year that biotech crops are being planted in the U.S. Today, the vast majority of corn, soybeans, and cotton are genetically enhanced to fight weeds and bugs. The broader public has responded favorably as well, especially when there is objective information provided. Of course the public might be against GM seed if they are told there might be a problem. That’s why I’m writing this article. I haven’t seen these problems, research scientist inside and outside the industry haven’t been able to show these problems and our regulators didn’t find these supposed problems. The American people need to know that. Let’s put some trust but verify into action on this important subject and question those who oppose important new things, “just because.”

As a farmer I do not take more risk than I can justify. My legacy is my farm and the young people I leave to farm it. When I see the decades of regulatory research into biotech seeds and the billions of acres planted over the years, I simply ask a question. When there are no negative outcomes in the environment or human health discovered after so many years, is there not a point when those fearful of biotechnology can admit there is no longer need to just fear? I want the regulatory functions to go on and get better if anything, but simply stopping progress with the courts is not a way to facilitate proper research and rules development.

Science also has come down solidly on the side of biotechnology. Research has shown that these plants pose no threat to anybody and may even enhance human health as new traits that improve nutrition become available. On the environmental front, GM crops have let farmers adopt no-till methods that fight soil erosion. Gains in yield allow farmers to produce more food on each acre of land, thereby reducing the pressure on wilderness areas.

The anti-biotech activists are applying a cynical approach to science, technology, and food production by hiring lawyers and seeking out friendly court venues. Yet these professional rabble-rousers have a lot invested in their litigious scheme. The Supreme Court’s decision probably isn’t enough to make them abandon it completely. Even if they don’t win on alfalfa, they’ll try to win on sugar beets--another important crop that they are attempting to thwart.

The good news is that the Supreme Court’s ruling will make it harder for them to succeed. My goal in farming is to improve the environment in my care and provide ever safer food for Americans and the world.

All across our land I hope for us to all come together around achievable goals like mine. If there are legitimate objections to the adoption of new farming tools such as biotech seeds, I’m waiting to hear them and would want to see such objections thoroughly handled. Right now the objections appear to come without merit attached. So sayeth our Supreme Court.
Reg Clause raises cattle, corn and soybeans on a fourth generation family farm in central Iowa. He is a Truth About Trade & Technology board member (www.truthabouttrrade.org)


Facilitating Conservation Farming Practices and Enhancing Environmental Sustainability with Agricultural Biotechnology

Download at http://www.ctic.purdue.edu/BiotechSustainability/

CTIC's new publication explores the breadth of the environmental benefits of conservation tillage practices, which are facilitated significantly by biotechnology crops. Access the full document or executive summary to learn about the dramatic improvements in environmental sustainability and productivity over the past several years.

Agricultural biotechnology delivers more than just streamlined pest management options or the promise of healthier, higher quality crops. Biotech-derived crops allow growers to adopt sustainable farming practices ranging from conservation tillage to integrated pest management. Those practices protect soil, water and air quality and allow producers to sustain our natural resources as well as our lives and lifestyles.

No other options have been identified with the potential to improve crop yields and safeguard the environment as well as genetically modified (GM) crops farmed with sustainable practices, concludes this new report from researchers at Purdue University in the U.S. The report says that farmers are in a "race against time" to increase agricultural productivity as demand for food rises. It says, for example, that to meet the projected soybean demand of 2030, farmers would have to add 168 million acres of soybeans to existing production if global yields remained the same as today, or double those yields to 59.5 bushels per acre to harvest enough soybeans on today's acreage.

GM crops are important, the report says, because they show promise to double or triple the current rate of yield increase in corn, and match or exceed the average 0.5-bushel-per-acre annual increase in soybean yields. The report predicts that the next generation of GM or "biotech" crops will feature new input traits such as tolerance of more herbicides and insects and more efficient use of water and nitrogen. The next generation will also introduce valuable output traits, such as crops with improved health profiles, the report predicts.

With regard to the environment, the report says the environmental benefits from GM input traits add up quickly in pounds of herbicides and insecticides eliminated from the production system. It says, for example, that: 1) herbicide-tolerant soybeans and cotton reduced U.S. herbicide usage in 2007 by 47.4 million pounds of active ingredient; and 2) insect-resistant cotton and corn varieties decreased insecticide applications that year by 8.67 million pounds of active ingredient. In addition, the adoption in the U.S. of GM crops – especially soybeans - closely tracks the expansion of environmentally-beneficial conservation tillage and no-till production, the report says. (Via Meridian)

Download at http://www.ctic.purdue.edu/BiotechSustainability/


Robb Fraley: Monsanto is a Champion of Healthy Eating

- Peter Aldhous, New Scientist, June 28,2010; issue no. 2766 http://www.newscientist.com

The company's chief technology officer on how the agri-biotech giant is reinventing itself.

So far, selling genetically modified food seems to have benefited Monsanto more than consumers. Will that change?
Within the next couple of years our plants will have several traits with direct consumer benefits. We have introduced two genes that allow soybeans to produce about 20 per cent of their oil as an omega-3 fatty acid. It doesn't have the fishy odours that are normally associated with the breakdown of omega-3s and means companies can formulate foods with direct benefits for cardiovascular health.

What types of foods might contain this oil?
We've created yoghurts, soy milks, we can do salad dressings and we are working on energy bars. There's even an opportunity to coat pastries and bread products. We're working with a partner company called Solae that has a broad experience of bringing soy ingredients to food companies.

Do you have any other nutrition products in the pipeline?
We've altered the soybean oil biochemical pathway so that it produces less trans-fat and less of the saturated fats that also have a negative cardiovascular effect. Effectively we have made soybean oil the same as olive oil in terms of its healthiness. We have consulted with nutrition groups, who recognise the benefits of this product. It's called Vistive Gold, and we're working with food companies to use it to cook French fries, make salad dressings and more.

What about improving agricultural yields? Critics argue that biotech has yet to deliver.
Everyone knows the challenges that agriculture faces: food security, global warming, use of water, use of grains for biofuels. As the population continues to increase, some say we'll need to double production of grain.

Monsanto is on the verge of launching a new set of genes that can provide drought protection and is also working to improve fertiliser efficiency. Changes in plant breeding may be even more dramatic. We now know all the genes in a corn plant. That opens the door for breeders to make very precise crosses. Then there's automation: we have robots that can pick up individual seeds and shave off a small sample for DNA analysis, increasing the efficiency of what a breeder can do by thousands of times.

We're also seeing dramatic changes in the agronomic system. Tractors being sold now have GPS systems, so farmers can plant the seed precisely where the fertiliser is. As a result of all these advances, we think it will be possible to double yields from 2000 levels for cotton, corn, soybean and canola by 2030.

Monsanto has often been attacked by environmentalists. Do you think you'll ever find common ground?
There are groups that are anti-biotechnology and with whom there will never be a meeting of minds. But we have had partnerships with environmental groups in the US and South America. In addition, we already supply vegetable seeds to the organic market.

Robb Fraley led the development of Monsanto's herbicide-resistant genetically modified crops and now oversees its global crop and seed technology and research


Philippines the First in Asia to Commercialize GM Eggplant

- Melody M. Aguiba, Manila Bulletin, June 28, 2010 http://www.mb.com.ph/

The Philippines will become the first in Asia to commercialize the genetically modified (GM) fruit and shoot borer (FSB)-resistant eggplant by 2011. This developed after the harvest of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in a trial site in Pangasinan.

“The performance is better than what we expected. We expect to have a considerable increase in yield for this field trial,” said Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP) Director Frank A. Shotkoski in an interview in a harvest festival in Sta. Maria, Pangasinan.

Barring any unforeseen hindrance, the Institute of Biotechnology-University of the Philippines in Los Baños (IPB-UPLB) will release to the market Bt eggplant seeds by next year after an approval of the National Biosafety Committee (NCBP), according to ABSP Product Development Manager Desiree M. Hautea. Bt eggplant can arrest loss from FSB infestation, which reaches to 50 percent or higher. Average eggplant yield in the country is 9.95 metric tons per hectare.

It can substantially cut pesticide use, cut production cost for farmers, reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals, benefit consumers through lower price from higher eggplant production while protecting their health, and even enhancing environmental protection.

With a technology donated by the Mahyco of India, an Indian green and striped eggplant variety was crossed by the IPB with local varieties Dumaguete Long and Mara to produce the Filipino-desired color and size. “It took us long time from 2005 to develop a variety that has the 99.9 percent characteristic of our local variety. The technology was donated to us, but it’s really Filipino-developed,” she said. IPB will come up by 2011 with an open pollinated variety (OPV) for the Bt eggplant. This will enable resource-poor farmers to save the seeds after one planting for continued use in the next planting, bringing cost savings.

However, a hybrid Bt eggplant will be put to the market by IPB most likely in 2012 which will have the hybrid vigor that can produce 100 percent more yield than the OPV, although this will require farmers to buy the seeds each season.

Bt eggplant seeds’ commercial release will follow after another set of multilocational field trials for the dry season which starts perhaps in October this year. On top of the present sites’ Pangasinan, Bicol, and Los Baños – the Bt eggplant will also be pilot-planted in (Visayas) Leyte and Iloilo and (Mindanao) Kabacan, North Cotabato and Davao. IBP will initially produce the seeds through its National Seed Foundation. It may later enter into seed production deals with the Department of Agriculture or other State Universities and Colleges.

For the initial seeds marketing and eventual extensive commercial production, seed companies like East West or Syngenta may enter into a franchising or licensing agreement with IBP. No such deal has been completed so far, officials said. Eggplant is the most popular vegetable in the Philippines planted on 13 percent of the 600,000-hectare vegetable land, according to the World Vegetable Center

The Philippines can become the first to commercialize Bt eggplant next year as the Indian government has halted its commercial release due to lobbying from environmental groups. Bt eggplant will be the first GM vegetable to be released in the country.


INIA Disproves Claim of Illegally Planted Transgenic Maize in Peru

- Via Crop Biotech Update, June 25, 2010

Peru's National Institute for Agricultural Innovation (INIA) disproved a study that generated a court case in Peru that claimed the presence of illegally planted transgenic maize in the valley of Pativilca in the Barranca region. Results were presented at the International Forum of Modern Biotechnology in the Agricultural Sector that disproved the findings made by biologist Antonietta Gutierrez, who claimed to have found two types of hard yellow corn resistant to herbicides and certain insects.

Biologist Ernesto Bustamante was sued by Antonietta Gutierrez at the 6th Criminal Court of Lima which found him guilty of the crime of defamation. He expressed satisfaction over the findings noting that INIA proved it is a good regulator agency and is well qualified to sample all areas of the Barranca and Pativilca valleys, despite the refusal of Dr. Gutiérrez to turn over her samples and to indicate the location coordinates of the fields in which she made her study.

The English translation of the original article in Spanish is available at http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Geneflow/INIA-discarded-geneflow-Barranca-EXPRESO-20100622.pdf


A Case for GM Crops

- Theresa Phillips, About.com, June 21, 2010 http://biotech.about.com

Is gene technology is the solution to global hunger? Canadian Business magazine covered the topic of GM foods in their March-April issue, and author Joe Castaldo made some very good points. The story opens with a tale of the near collapse of the Hawaiian papaya market in the 1990s. Saved by genetic engineering, the majority of Hawaiian papaya is now transgenic, with resistance conferred by expression of a gene isolated from the ring-spot virus that threatened to destroy it.

According to Castaldo, "condemning genetically modified food is all the rage" and he might be right. To some, it's a clear-cut cause, and I agree there are legitimate concerns to be had about using GM crops, but I've never been an advocate of blanket policies like an all-out ban on GMOs. I believe that, in some cases, the pros are liable to outweigh the cons, and unless we tackle new products on a case-by-case basis, humankind stands to lose out on some potentially life-saving developments in agricultural biotechnology.

Why would we not TRY to do what we can to increase crop yields or improve quality and decrease pesticide use? GM food crops are not always about pesticides and disease resistance either. Much of the research being done is to increase tolerance to drought or extreme temperatures, and make fertilizer use more efficient. William Niebur, head of crop genetic research at Pioneer said it best: "The idea that we would back off on improving productivity in a sustainable manner is, for me, immoral" (Castaldo, 2010), and I fully agree.

Source: Castaldo, J. 2010. The Future of Food: The DNA Solution. Canadian Business 83(4/5):37-40.


Speaking Up for Biotechnology


New Yorker reporter Michael Specter, University of Illinois Professor Bruce Chassy and others discuss the political and regulatory barriers prohibiting many farmers from growing biotech crops that could greatly benefit them and reduce hunger.


Pamela Ronald - http://www.youtube.com/user/CBIWashingtonDC#p/u/3/9UmUKwRyIF4

Prakash - http://www.youtube.com/user/CBIWashingtonDC#p/u/4/C8eS9dFFr4A

Jagadish Mittur - http://www.youtube.com/user/CBIWashingtonDC#p/u/7/zFm24DRkQWc