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July 12, 2010


EU Overhaul of GM Policy - Back to the Countries; Fussy Eaters - What's Wrong With GM Food? Hunger Atlas; Glowing Crops


* EU Offers Olive Branch In GM Crop Battle
* EU Wants to Put GMO Dispute to An End
* Europe's New Approach to Biotech Food
* Bt Cotton in India: A Country Profile
* Fussy Eaters - What's Wrong With GM Food?
* GM Crops Will Help Feed the World
* Kenyan Varsities Urged to Do GMO Research
* Glowing Crops Could Minimise Pesticide Use
* Hunger Atlas Takes A New Look At An Old Problem
* Safety Assessment of Nonbrowning Potatoes
* Live Webcast - Biotech: What Food Companies Need to Know
* Global Food Supply: How Do We Secure Food for the Future?

EU Offers Olive Branch In GM Crop Battle

- AFP, Jul 12, 2010

BRUSSELS - Europe's long battle over genetically-modified crops will take a new turn tomorrow when the European Commission offers a truce with governments to break an impasse blocking their development.

The European Union's executive arm will propose to give individual governments the freedom to ban such products in their countries and ask in exchange that states relax their opposition to new crop applications by biotech firms.

The idea has caused alarm among opponents of biotech foods who fear that the proposals would pave the way for GM crops to sprout across the EU. Opponents speak of "frankenfoods" which will inevitably contaminate other crops and for which there can be no definitive evidence of their safety. Supporters argue that such crops have higher yields, resist pests and disease better.

Under the current system, GM crop applications are examined by a panel of experts of members states and need to pass with a qualified majority. In case of deadlock, the decision goes to EU ministers and if the impasse persists, the European Commission is left with the final decision.

While GM crops are thriving in other parts of the world, they represent a tiny slice of the farm business in Europe. France has already taken a hard stance. "We want the conditions for authorisations to be tough. We see a trap in this proposal which consists in calming everybody by letting each one do as they please," said French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo.


EU Wants to Put GMO Dispute to An End

- EurActive, July 2010 12 http://www.euractiv.com

The European Commission will tomorrow (13 July) propose an overhaul of the EU's policy for approving genetically modified (GM) crops, which will allow countries more freedom to ban cultivation on their territory while retaining an EU-wide authorisation system.

The new policy for GM crop cultivation, to be unveiled tomorrow, aims to draw a line under years of stalemate between countries that support GMOs and those opposed to their cultivation. The initiative aims to deliver on a promise made by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso before his reappointment last year (EurActiv 03/09/09).

At present, EU member states are only able to restrict GM crop cultivation under strict conditions, as authorisation licences are valid across the 27-country bloc, in accordance with the principles of the EU single market.

The plans would allow large-scale commercial planting in pro-GM countries such as Spain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, opening up new markets for major biotech companies, while at the same time legally endorsing existing GM bans in countries like Italy, Austria and Hungary.

Legislative proposals
The legislative proposal seeks to insert a new article (Article 26b) into the 2001 Directive on the Deliberate Release of GMOs. The proposed new article allows member states to prohibit cultivation provided that the reasons are not related to GMOs' adverse effects on health and their environment, or to their socio-economic impact.

Health and environmental concerns can continue to be raised using the existing safeguard clause (Article 23 of the directive).

Meanwhile, prohibition on socio-economic grounds will be authorised under a new Commission Recommendation on guidelines to prevent GM contamination of conventional and organic crops, which will also be tabled tomorrow. The guidelines are set to replace 2003 Commission guidance on national co-existence measures.

Speeding up authorisation processes
The draft new texts also stress that member states should adopt "a more positive stance" on GMO authorisation at the risk assessment stage and "avoid" seizing the safeguard clause to address non-scientific issues.

The idea is to trade a broader right to restrict GM crop cultivation on national territory in exchange for some member states dropping their long-standing opposition to GM crops.

For years, EU member states in the Council of Ministers have been unable to reach a qualified majority for or against GMO authorisations, referring the matter back to the Commission, which has invariably authorised them via a special regulatory procedure.

NGOs denounce flawed proposal
Under the proposed deal, the GMO approval process would therefore speed up. But environmental NGOs Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace argue that restrictions on invoking Article 26b would limit the set of admissible grounds for bans mainly to ethical concerns.

According to them, national decisions based on ethical grounds are likely to be subject to legal challenges brought by crop companies due to the difficulty of defining "objective" criteria in the field of ethics, they stress. A legal opinion on the draft proposal commissioned by the two NGOs argues that it does not provide the legal certainty that member states need in order to adopt permanent bans on GMOs that have received EU approval.

NGOs also note that while the Commission proposals address the banning of GM crops by national governments, there is nothing to protect conventional and organic farmers in countries that decide to allow them.

Business worried about legal uncertainties, single market
EuropaBio, the European bio-industry association, says the Commission's plan to "nationalise" the GMO issue should be seen as positive step.

But it notes that the "devil is in the detail," arguing that the draft proposals could in practice cause legal uncertainty as farmers will be able to challenge their national authorities for restricting access to products, for example. The industry underlines the importance of allowing all EU farmers the same choice of technology once it has received scientific approval from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

In this regard, EuropaBio notes that tomorrow's proposals represent a move away from the EU single market as they would allow member states to restrict products on non-scientific grounds.

New environmental risk assessment guidelines under way
Before a GM plant can be cultivated in the EU it has to undergo an extensive Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) to identify any possible adverse effects it may have on the environment. Following criticism from some member states, the European Commission mandated the European Food Safety Authority's GMO panel to revise the agency's guidelines on environmental risk assessments.

The guidelines assess, for example, the persistence and invasiveness of a GM plant, including plant-to-plant gene transfers, its impact on non-target organisms and criteria for setting up field trials.

However, a report analysing the EFSA's draft guidelines for the environmental risk assessment of genetically engineered plants, presented by the Greens in the European Parliament last week (6 July), argues that the agency fails to properly address risks posed by genetically engineered plants.

The report stresses that there is a "basic misconception" in EFSA's thinking, which assumes that genetically engineered plants are similar to those obtained by conventional breeding. The Greens argue they are fundamentally different.

Marco Contiero, GM policy officer at Greenpeace, added that if this concept of "substantial equivalence" were taken as a basis, it would be impossible to assess unpredictable long-term effects of GM plants. French Green MEPs José Bové and Sandrine Bélier said that together with the Commission's upcoming new policy on GM crop cultivation, the EFSA's current environment risk assessment proposals "would allow companies to reduce risk assessment to just a few studies and to speed up market authorisation for the EU territory overall".


At present, EU member states are only able to restrict genetically modified (GM) crop cultivation under strict conditions as authorisation licences are valid across the 27-country bloc, in accordance with the principles of the EU's single market.

Several member states have repeatedly invoked an EU safeguard clause enabling them to suspend the marketing or growth on their territory of GM crops that enjoy EU-wide authorisation, but the European Commission has never substantiated their applications and has always ordered the lifting of national bans.

In addition, the safety assessments performed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have come under criticism over the years (EurActiv 05/12/05 and 10/03/06). The EU executive has tried to introduce practical changes to the EFSA's GMO-approval process and in spring 2008, it mandated the agency to revise its guidance for the long-term environmental risk assessment of GM plants (EurActiv 12/04/06).

The EFSA itself has been trying to improve the openness and transparency of its work. During the French EU Presidency in 2008, EU ministers also called for the long-term environmental risk assessment of GMOs to be improved.


Europe's New Approach to Biotech Food

- Jameds Kanter, The New York Times, July 7, 2010 http://www.nytimes.com

After decades of pushing nations to surrender more power to Brussels, the European Union is about to throw in the towel on one highly contentious issue: genetically modified foods. On Tuesday, the European Commission will formally propose giving back to national and local governments the freedom to decide whether to grow crops that many Europeans still call Frankenfoods.

The new policy is aimed at overcoming a stalemate that has severely curtailed the market for biotech seeds in Europe for years. Only two crops, produced by Monsanto and B.A.S.F., are sold for cultivation here.

The new flexibility is supposed to open up markets in countries like the Netherlands, where governments are broadly favorable toward growing and trading biotech products, while countries like Austria, where the products are unpopular, can maintain a ban.

But far from celebrating, the growing global industry, as well as some farmers themselves, is extremely wary of the new approach. "So many different authorities suddenly doing so many different things risks sending a message to successful growers in Africa and Asia that authorities are unsure how to deal with biotech", said Nathalie Moll, the secretary general of EuropaBio, an industry group. She said it also remained to be seen whether the proposals would conform with World Trade Organization rules.

The United States and the Union are still trying to resolve a dispute over genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.'s, and related issues after the W.T.O. ruled, in 2006, against Europe's de facto ban. Washington could still retaliate in that case.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative declined to comment on the new approach but said it would be on the agenda at a meeting with E.U. officials this month.

Despite 'some progress' in recent months, the United States still has a number of concerns," said Nefeterius Akeli McPherson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. trade representative. They include "a substantial backlog of pending biotech applications, and bans adopted by individual E.U. member states on biotech products approved at the E.U. level."

The reality remains that the European Union still produces few genetically modified crops. The United States, Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada are the top five producers in terms of land under cultivation. The European Union, with 27 member nations, is the 14th largest, just after Burkina Faso.

A key factor behind the proposed change in Europe is a growing frustration in Brussels with the current system, under which meetings between government officials and ministers routinely end in deadlock. That forces unelected officials at the European Commission to make the final decision on authorizing biotech products and to take the heat.

The commission has found itself repeatedly pressured on one side by the United States and the W.T.O. to follow the recommendations of its own scientific authorities and enforce the use of approved products and on the other by countries like Austria and environmental groups that believe the E.U. authorities are too eager to promote newfangled technologies.

Under the new proposals, the commission would continue to make the approvals itself but leave it to members and local and regional authorities to decide what they want to grow at home. But whether the new rules will win the necessary approval from E.U. governments and the European Parliament still is unclear.

In an unlikely alliance, the Austrian and Dutch governments first made the proposal back in 2008. The Dutch were eager to ease tensions over biotech crops with the United States and other trading partners, and to ensure continuing imports of animal feeds that contain biotech products. Animal farming is a big part of the economy in the Netherlands, which, in turn, is a major exporter of meat and dairy products. Dutch researchers also are involved in developing biotech products.

The Austrians supported the changes as a way to keep its national ban on growing any such crops without facing regular challenges from the E.U. authorities. Other countries, though, have expressed concern about setting a precedent that could undermine European integration. The crisis this year over how to supervise the finances of the 16 nations that use the euro already has highlighted the limits to European cooperation.

"If the agricultural policy is common, why wouldn't the policy of cultivation of G.M.O.s be?" asked Elena Espinosa, the Spanish environment minister. Spain grew 80 percent of the biotech corn, designed to resist a pest called the corn borer, produced in Europe last year.

In addition, Belgium, which has just taken over the rotating E.U. presidency, is concerned that a ban by a single country could put the entire bloc in danger of facing retaliatory trade sanctions.

Even farmers that favor biotech crops are concerned that the commission is offloading a problem on them and that the issue could become even more politicized than it is now.

"The Welsh and the Scots are vehemently opposed to genetically modified crops," said Philip Lodge, who would like to farm biotech sugar beets in Yorkshire, in northern England. "With these conflicts of interest so close to home, I just don't see how I'll be able to grow G.M. in practice."

Other farmers warned that the Union risked stirring up new confrontations with activists, who in the past have destroyed crops planted in trial fields. "The prospect terrorizes me" said Jerome Hue, who farms in Carcans, France. "If every locality can ban G.M.O.s, I don't see how we will be allowed to grow the crops anywhere in France anymore."

Mr. Hue grew corn produced by Monsanto before the French government imposed a national ban in 2008. France has said it would consider lifting that ban once the European authorities have assessed new evidence about the effects of G.M. crops on the environment. Mr. Hue said anti-biotech activists could erect beehives at the edges of some farmers fields to put pressure on the authorities to impose new bans if the honey picked up traces of the modified genes.

But commission officials and some other member states like the Netherlands say the new policy points the way to managing an increasingly unwieldy group of 27 countries. Last week, in the latest example of the persistent differences, countries failed for a third time to break a deadlock over whether to allow imports of six varieties of bioengineered corn for food and feed made by Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, Pioneer and Syngenta.

That leaves the decision up to the E.U. health commissioner, John Dalli, who is expected to approve the products in coming months. He caused a furor among environmentalists in March when he approved cultivation of a biotech potato by B.A.S.F. - the first such approval in more than a decade in Europe.

In the European Parliament, among those reviewing the proposed new rules will be Jose Bove, a French sheep farmer who captured worldwide attention a decade ago for ransacking a McDonald's restaurant to protest the influence of multinational corporations. Since then he has served time in a French prison for damaging biotech crops. He is now a deputy chairman of the agriculture committee at the European Parliament, where he was elected as a member of the Green party.


Bt Cotton in India: A Country Profile

- ISAAA, July 12, 2010

Bt Cotton in India: A Country Profile is the first volume in a new series of publications called "Biotech Crop Profiles" which will feature comprehensive overviews of the adoption, impact and future prospects of biotech crops in developing countries. The series is produced by researchers of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Bt Cotton in India: A Country Profile critically analyzes the adoption and impact of Bt cotton in India from 2002 to 2009. The volume is a user-friendly, comprehensive and rich source of information on Bt cotton in India - the first biotech cotton crop to be approved in India in 2002. It includes the most relevant authoritative statistics and references on Bt cotton in India, including hectarage of Bt cotton hybrids, numbers of Bt cotton farmers, and a chronology of approved Bt cotton events.

The volume also summarizes the impact of Bt cotton in India at the national and farm-level during the eight year period of commercializa tion taking into account the 11 independent studies conducted by public institutions during that period. It is excerpted from the "Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2009", ISAAA Brief 41, authored by Dr. Clive James.

The volume hopes to share the rich knowledge and experience with Bt cotton in India more widely with the scientific community in the country and also with global society. This will facilitate a more informed and transparent discussion about the contribution and potential role of Bt cotton in the agriculture sector in India and other countries, and particularly Bt cotton's contribution to a more sustainable agriculture.

Download a copy of the publication at http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/biotech_crop_profiles/bt_cotton_in_india-a_country_profile/download/default.asp


Fussy Eaters - What's Wrong With GM Food?

- Jonathan Jones. BBC, July 6, 2010

With the world's food security facing a looming "perfect storm", GM food crops need to be part of the solution, argues Professor Jonathan Jones. In this week's Green Room, he wonders why there is such a fuss about biotechnology when it can help deliver a sustainable global food system. (In the US, where many processed foods contain ingredients derived from GM maize or soy, in the most litigious society in history, nobody has sued for a GM health problem)

A billion humans do not have enough to eat. Water resources are limited, energy costs are rising, the cultivatable land is already mostly cultivated, and climate change could hit productive areas hard. We need a sustainable intensification of agriculture to increase production by 50% by 2030 - but how?

Food security requires solutions to many diverse problems. In the US or Europe, improved seeds could increase yields by 10% or more, reduce pesticide use and give "more crop per drop".

However, improved seeds can only help impoverished African farmers if they also have reliable water supply, roads to take crops to market, and (probably most important) fertiliser. Better farming methods are also part of the solution; these require investment in technology and people. Fortunately, after 25 years of "food complacency", policymakers are taking the issue seriously again.

I want to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture while maintaining food supply. The best thing we can do is cultivate less land, leaving more for wildlife, but if we are still to produce enough food, yields must go up. There are many contributors to yield; water, fertiliser, farming practice, and choice of seed.

'Simple method'
We can improve crop variety performance by both plant breeding (which gets better every year with new genetic methods), and by genetic modification (GM).

Ouch; yuck - GM. Did you recoil from those letters? Why? I started making GM plants (petunias, as it happens) in 1983, working at a long defunct agbiotech company in California called Advanced Genetic Sciences.

In the early 80s, we did wonder about - in Rumfeldspeak - "unknown unknowns; the unknowns we didn't know we didn't know about", but 27 years later, nothing alarming has been seen. The method (GM is a method not a thing) is simple.

We take a plant, which typically carries about 30,000 genes, and add a few additional genes that confer insect resistance, or herbicide resistance, or disease resistance, or more efficient water use, or improved human nutrition, or less polluting effluent from animals that eat the grain, or more efficient fertiliser uptake, or increased yield. We could even (heck, why not?) do all of the above to the same plant.

The result is increased yield, decreased agrochemical use and reduced environmental impact of agriculture. In commercial GM, many hundreds of independent introductions of the desired new gene (the "transgene") are made, each in a different individual plant that is selected and tested. Most lines are discarded. To be commercialised, a line must carry a simple, stable and well-defined gene insertion, and show heritable and effective transgene function, with no deleterious effects on the plant.

Growing demand
GM is the most rapidly adopted, benign, effective new technology for agriculture in my lifetime. Fourteen million farmers grow GM crops on 135 million hectares; these numbers increased by about 10% per year over the past decade, and this rate of growth continues. More than 200,000 tonnes of insecticide have not been applied, thanks to built-in insect resistance in Bt crops; how could anyone think that's a bad thing?

Bt maize is safer to eat because of lower levels of mycotoxins from fungi that enter the plant's grains via the holes made by corn-borer feeding; no insects, no holes, no fungal entry, no toxins in our food. There are not enough fish in the sea to provide us all with enough omega 3 fatty acids in our diet, but we can now modify oilseeds to make this nutrient in crops on land.

Protection from rootworm means maize crops capture more water and fertiliser, so less is wasted. Farmers must always control weeds; herbicide tolerant (HT) soy makes this easier, and has enabled replacement of water-polluting persistent herbicides with the more benign and rapidly inactivated glyphosate. HT soy has enabled wider low-till agriculture, reducing CO2 emissions.

And yet in Europe, we seem stuck in a time warp. Worldwide, 135 million hectares of GM crops have been planted; yet in Norfolk, I needed to spend £30,000 of taxpayers' money to provide security for a field experiment with 192 potato plants, carrying one or another of a disease resistance gene from a wild relative of potato. It boggles the mind. What are people afraid of?

'Wishful thinking'
Some fear the domination of the seed industry by multinationals, particularly Monsanto.
We need smart, sustainable, sensitive science and technology, and we need to use every tool in our toolbox, including GM Monsanto is certainly the most determined and successful agbiotech company. In their view, they had to be; they bet the company on agbiotech because unlike their rivals (who also sell nylon or agrichemicals) they had nothing else to fall back on.

But monopoly is bad for everyone. Here's a part solution; deregulate GM. If it costs more than $20m (£13m) to get regulatory approval for one transgene, lots of little GM-based solutions to lots of problems will be too expensive and therefore not deployed, and the public sector and small start-up companies will not make the contribution they could. Never before has such excessive regulation been created in response to (still) purely hypothetical risks.

The cost of this regulation - demanded by green campaigners - has bolstered the monopoly of the multinationals. This is a massive own-goal and has postponed the benefits to the environment and to us all.

Some fear GM food is bad for health. There are no data that support this view. In the US, where many processed foods contain ingredients derived from GM maize or soy, in the most litigious society in history, nobody has sued for a GM health problem.

Some fear GM is bad for the environment. But in agriculture, idealism does not solve problems. Farmers need "least bad" solutions; they do not have the luxury of insisting on utopian solutions.

It is less bad to control weeds with a rapidly inactivated herbicide after the crop germinates, than to apply more persistent chemicals beforehand. It is less bad to have the plant make its own insecticidal protein, than to spray insecticides. It is better to maximise the productivity of arable land via all kinds of sustainable intensification, than to require more land under the plough because of reduced yields.

Some say GM is high risk, but they cannot tell you what the risk is. Some say GM is causing deforestation in Brazil, even though if yields were less, more deforestation would be required to meet Chinese and European demand for animal feed.

Some say we do not need GM blight resistant potatoes to solve the £3.5bn per year problem of potato blight, because blight resistant varieties have been bred. But if these varieties are so wonderful, how come farmers spend £500 per hectare on spraying to protect blight sensitive varieties? The answer is the market demands varieties such as Maris Piper, so we need to make them blight resistant.

I used to be a member of a green campaign group. They still have campaigns I support (sustainable fishing, save the rainforests, fight climate change), but on GM, they are simply wrong.

Even activists of impeccable green credentials, such as Stewart Brand, see the benefits of GM. Wishful thinking will not feed the planet without destroying it. Instead, we need smart, sustainable, sensitive science and technology, and we need to use every tool in our toolbox, including GM.

Professor Jonathan Jones is senior scientist for The Sainsbury Laboratory, based at the John Innes Centre, a research centre in plant and microbial science

Full article and readers comments at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8789279.stm


GM Crops Will Help Feed the World

- Shane Morris, Irish Examiner, July 7, 2010 http://examiner.ie

Grace Maher's letter on genetically modified (GM) crops (June 24) is a great example of disinformation. She uses a non-peer reviewed, highly inaccurate report published by an anti-GM lobby group from which she cherrypicks the data.

In fact, the report in question is not only missing key US Department of Agriculture data but actually does admit the fact there have been real pesticide reductions from certain types of GM crops with real savings to farmers (as outlined in Sheridan, C, Nature Biotechnology, February 2010, Volume 28, No 2, page 112).

The point Ms Maher ignores is that GM is simply a technology and, as such, can be applied to addressing a wide range of problems with varying degrees of success.

The success of GM applications in agriculture will depend not only on the nature of the applications but also on local conditions and local issues. For example, a GM soya variety with clear environmental no-till benefits in the US mid-west (92% of all soya grown in the US is now GM) might be useless in a sub-Saharan country.

GM is no silver bullet solution to the problem of food security, but it can be a powerful component of a sustainable solution. Why then would Grace Maher throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater?

A more enlightened approach has been taken by Bob Geldof, who has stated: "I just find hunger the worst, most anomalous, unnecessary death. So I'm a big GM guy and part of that is the notion that we can't allow Africans to have genetically modified foods, despite the fact that the science has come on a lot, that there are safeguards. Is it the answer to everything? No, of course not, but it's partially an answer when crops can grow in arid conditions. So if you develop something that's a net boon to vulnerable people, give it to them. Give it to them!"

The key elements in feeding the world now and in the future will be increased public funding, the right policies regarding production and access to food, improved crop technologies (including GM) - all of which should be grounded in sound ecosystem management.

There is no reason why the best of GM and organic has to offer can't be utilised pragmatically together under the banner of a next generation approach to sustainable agriculture.

- Shane Morris, Coolkill, Sandyford, Dublin 18

Virus-resistant Cassava Could be Available by 2015

- Lucas Laursen, Scidev.net, July 9. 2010

Cassava breeds that are resistant to two major viruses could soon be available to farmers in Africa. Cassava mosaic disease and brown streak disease stunt the growth and rot the roots of crops, respectively.

Mosaic disease alone destroys an estimated 35 million tonnes of African cassava a year - the difference between needing to import food into Africa and achieving food independence, according to researchers at the US-based Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

The team conducted field trials in Uganda that have shown that genetically engineered (GE) tobacco plants resist mosaic disease. Their results will appear in Molecular Plant Pathology next month (August), Claude Fauquet, lead author of the study and director of cassava research at the centre, told SciDev.Net.

Pending field trials will test the same modification in various cassava breeds selected according to farmers' tastes and local growing conditions in Kenya and Uganda, he said. The team is also awaiting approval to run field tests on resistance to brown streak disease with collaborators in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.

But it could be 2015 before the plants are approved for commercial use, said Fauquet, whose team is building local laboratories and facilities, and training African scientists and technicians to handle the field trials. Researchers in Kenya and Tanzania are also expecting approval for field trials of cassava breeds resistant to mosaic disease, Morag Ferguson, a plant molecular geneticist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Kenya, told SciDev.Net. The team used a non-GE approach by cross-breeding native and wild strains of cassava to achieve resistance in laboratory and greenhouse tests.

Both teams hope for swift approval by the continent's nascent biosafety regulation community, even though many African countries still lack clear biosafety laws. Ferguson said that successful field trials of disease-resistant cassava could "prompt countries to get their biosafety regulations in place". Legislators are cautious of GE technology at first but if there is a chance of successfully controlling crop disease they would like to see those solutions applied quickly, Fauquet said.

But Anne Kingiri, a research fellow at the UK Department for International Development's Research into Use Programme, said that the deployment of GE plants is not dependent only on biosafety regulations, nor are the regulations only dependent on the technology - country-specific social and institutional factors also play a role. "Quicker passage of biosafety laws - which are pertinent for GE technology deployment - will depend on many factors, including honesty and transparency amongst researchers about benefits and potential risks," she said.


Kenyan Varsities Urged to Do GMO Research

- Evelyne Njoroge, Capital Business (Kenya), July 12, 2010 http://www.capitalfm.co.ke/business/Kenyabusiness/Kenyan-varsities-urged-to-do-GMO-research-4398.html

Learning and research institutions have been challenged to take the lead and develop genetically modified seeds for commercial production of plants in the country.

Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) Director for Plant Quarantine Station Abed Kagundu argued that such organisations enjoy public trust and they should therefore take up the challenge and come up with varieties that can enable the country to be food secure. "Universities and organisations such as the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) have generated a lot of varieties and hybrids and people have confidence in them. They should therefore take the lead," he said.

This, Mr Kagundu said, is one of the ways that the moral and ethical concerns about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) that have been expressed by many Kenyans can be addressed.

Kenya has been planting some varieties of genetically modified crops such as maize on pilot basis for the last ten years, which the officer said was a sign that the country was now ready to move to the next step of going large scale. "We were already doing trials without an Act (BioSafety Act), because we have other laws such as the Quarantine Act and the National Science Act, so we have some mechanisms which we can help us move on. So it is not an excuse that we do not have laws," he said.

He told Capital Business that if such organisations embraced the technology, they would pave the way for other private sector players to do the same which would see Kenya join the ranks of South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt hat have already started producing genetically modified foods.

The Plant Quarantine expert however said that although the country has good regulations to support the implementation of this modern biotechnology in the country, there is a need to gazette the regulations of the BioSafety Act which would provide the legal backing needed for governing the process.

Mr Kagundu however decried the lack of commitment and the limited resources investments that the country has set aside for research to generate locally produced products. He proposed the allocation of more funds by the government in research, training and public sensitisation which would see the country move a lot faster in the adoption of this technology and see the introduction of drought and disease resistant crops that can enable the country to be self sufficient.

On its part however, the government has shown some commitment towards this end with the inauguration of the National Biosafety Authority and its board which are necessary for the proper administration of the Act. This is particularly crucial as there are plans to start the commercial production of GM cotton in the next two years to jumpstart the ailing sub-sector.

Whether Kenya will adopt GMOs in the near future is not in question and thus the reason why KEPHIS has pledged to extend its regulation of the movement of plants to GMOs. Regulating this sub-sector will give assurance to the public and other countries that the organisation is checking all genetically modified crops in the country. Traces of GM products have in the past been found in some food imports but KEPHIS has assured that it is taking measures to inform the public of the existence of such foods and that it is in charge of the situation.

According to International Service for Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications Director Margaret Karembu, scientists and regulators such as KEPHIS have a huge role to play to demystify what GMOs are and what impact they can have on the economy.

Lack of proper communication is to blame for what she termed as distorted and sensationalised information that Kenyans have on this technology thus the need to for aggressive campaigns to present accurate facts about GM foods.

Despite this development, many farmers still reckon that Kenya should not go commercial just yet due to the impact that it will have on small-scale farmers. Charles Ndirangu, a maize farmer in Kiambu argued that the introduction of large scale GMO farming in the country would render most small holders who are estimated to be four million 'jobless'. Mr Ndirangu's sentiments are also shared by the Kenya Small Scale Farmers forum that has always been against the commercialisation of the technologically produced foods arguing that this might also negatively impact Kenya's export market.


Glowing Crops Could Minimise Pesticide Use

- Jacob Aron, Scidev.net, July 8, 2010

Farmers may one day be able to target pesticides to only those parts of their fields that are at risk of disease simply by noting which ones are glowing, according to researchers.

Scientists have genetically engineered the natural immune system of the tobacco plant to make it change colour or glow in the presence of viruses, bacteria and other pathogens known to reduce crop yields, which normally force farmers to apply costly pesticides. In laboratory tests, these 'photosensory' plants turn red or produce a fluorescent glow when infected.

Although the system has so far been tested only in tobacco plants, lead researcher Neal Stewart, a plant scientist at the US-based University of Tennessee, told SciDev.Net it could easily be adapted to other crops.

Instead of planting entire fields with these plants, he suggested they could be strategically placed throughout the field. This would introduce only a small number of GM plants into the environment, so farmers could choose not to harvest them while still benefiting from their pathogen-detecting ability. "If we know something bad is happening, the farmer can treat certain areas rather than the whole field," he said.

Stewart's sensory plants could also be adapted to detect landmines by changing their leaf colour. The next step, said Stewart, is to conduct field tests to discover exactly how the new plants respond to different pathogens in a field setting. "It would be very exciting to partner with research groups in developing countries that might not have access to a lot of pesticides," he said. "Knowing early on that a plant disease could sweep through might make a big difference to [those] farmers."

But Andrija Finka, a biologist at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, expressed concerns that farmers in developing countries would not be able to grow the high-tech plants. "It will be really hard to maintain them," he told SciDev.Net.

And Janice Lake, a plant physiologist at the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, said that plant responses to different stresses may be too similar to distinguish, because the same types of molecules can signal a range of problems. "I'm not sure how you would identify exact stresses," she said.

The researchers presented their work at the 12th World Congress of the International Association for Plant Biotechnology, in the United States, last month (6-11 June).


Hunger Atlas Takes A New Look At An Old Problem


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - World hunger is often seen as the result of overpopulation, bad geography or natural or human-made disasters. But a new book, "The Atlas of World Hunger," reveals that the contours and causes of hunger are more complex - and in some ways more easily addressed - than those old assumptions suggest.

Its authors, University of Illinois geography professor Thomas Bassett and Illinois agricultural and consumer economics professor Alex Winter-Nelson, developed a new method for assessing hunger. Their Hunger Vulnerability Index (HVI) locates the hungry as well as those at risk of falling into hunger.

The HVI is made up of three components that reflect the public and private dimensions of hunger: the availability of food at the national level, measured in calories available per capita per day; household access to that food, which is tied to household income; and the nutritional status of individuals - as reflected in specific health measures, such as growth failure in young children.

The authors developed the HVI because other assessments of world hunger, most notably the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization's Prevalence of Undernourishment (POU) index, overlooked some regions that were clearly suffering the effects of hunger. The FAO's index also failed to identify some populations that were at high risk of hunger, the authors report.

"One of the things that was really striking to me early when we were doing this mapping was discovering that the POU was showing no problems in places where child malnourishment and child stunting were tremendous problems," Winter-Nelson said. "That is really what motivated us to come up with the HVI."

The HVI uses a higher threshold of poverty than most other assessments, allowing it to capture those at risk of becoming hungry, he said. "The common idea is if you're living on less than can be purchased in the U.S. for $1.25 in a day, you're extremely poor," Winter-Nelson said. "People under that threshold are almost certainly suffering from hunger and will often be victims of early death because of their poverty. In our analysis, we took a higher threshold of $2 a day to try to capture people who are at risk of falling into that kind of extreme poverty."

The authors looked at a host of factors side by side with the HVI map, to see which variables were most closely associated with hunger vulnerability. Their findings contradict some common assumptions, like the notion that population growth drives hunger. "Maps are tools to interrogate the problem," Bassett said. "So, for example, we look at population growth rates around the world and we show that there actually is no strong relationship between population growth and hunger."

The authors also take issue with the idea that wars and natural disasters are a primary cause of hunger. "For us, natural or human-made disasters are exacerbating events that push people into hunger because they are already vulnerable," Bassett said. Drought, for example, does not lead to famine if people "have the resources to cope with disaster," he said.

Of all the factors that influence hunger, access to resources - physical, economic, political and social - is key, the authors report. "The roots of hunger are tangled and complex, but hunger is always closely tied to poverty and social vulnerability," they wrote. "We emphasize poverty and entitlement failure as the most important underlying causes of hunger."

The authors also make a more encouraging observation. They found that regions with high literacy, gender equality, access to health-care services and to technology tend to have lower rates of hunger and hunger vulnerability than other regions.

Literacy and access to technology have an obvious impact on hunger, Bassett said, because they enhance an individual's ability to earn enough money to eat well. Other less obvious factors, such as gender equality, also play a significant role in mediating hunger.

"Where gender inequalities are high, hunger vulnerability tends to be high," Bassett said. "That's linked to the fact that women take care of children. And if women's status is low - that is, if their incomes are low - they have little power in the household in decision-making around how money is spent. That's a sign that children are probably going to suffer because women are suffering."

"The Atlas of World Hunger" (University of Chicago Press) provides a new window on hunger, the authors say, showing for the first time the true extent of hunger vulnerability and revealing which efforts to reduce hunger will likely be most fruitful.

Slideshow at http://www.news.illinois.edu/slideshows/hunger/index.html


Safety Assessment of Nonbrowning Potatoes: opening the discussion about the relevance of substantial equivalence on next generation biotech crops

- Briardo Llorente et al., Plant Biotechnology Journal, Blackwell Publishing Ltd 21 May 2010 galonso@dna.uba.ar

It is expected that the next generation of biotech crops displaying enhanced quality traits with benefits to both farmers and consumers will have a better acceptance than first generation biotech crops and will improve public perception of genetic engineering. This will only be true if they are proven to be as safe as traditionally bred crops. In contrast with the first generation of biotech crops where only a single trait is modified, the next generation of biotech crops will add a new level of complexity inherent to the mechanisms underlying their output traits.

In this study, a comprehensive evaluation of the comparative safety approach on a quality-improved biotech crop with metabolic modifications is presented. Three genetically engineered potato lines with silenced polyphenol oxidase (Ppo) transcripts and reduced tuber browning were characterized at both physiological and molecular levels and showed to be equivalent to wild-type (WT) plants when yield-associated traits and photosynthesis were evaluated. Analysis of the primary metabolism revealed several unintended metabolic modifications in the engineered tubers, providing evidence for potential compositional inequivalence between transgenic lines and WT controls. The silencing construct sequence was in silico analysed for potential allergenic cross-reactivity, and no similarities to known allergenic proteins were identified. Moreover, in vivo intake safety evaluation showed no adverse effects in physiological parameters.

Taken together, these results provide the first evidence supporting that the safety of next generation biotech crops can be properly assessed following the current evaluation criterion, even if the transgenic and WT crops are not substantially equivalent.


Live Webcast - Biotechnology: What Food Companies Need to Know

- Institute of Food Technologists, July 9, 2010 8:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. CDT

Faculty: Steve Poole, Jun Yang, David Green, Lindsey Loving, Drew Kershen

Biotechnology is quickly becoming one of the top issues for food companies and it can be a tricky route to navigate, especially internationally. This webcast will prepare companies to successfully navigate the complex biotech landscape, minimizing product development and business risk. Experts will share tips to negotiate regulatory and legal processes. Results from the International Food Information Council's 14th annual Consumer Perspectives on Biotechnology study may surprise attendees about how consumers really feel about biotech.

Attendees will also learn how nutrition and functionality challenges with partially hydrogenated oils can be solved with biotech soybean oils. This is critical, because U.S. food manufacturers depend on soybeans: soybean oil accounts for 71.3% of edible fat and oil consumption, and biotech traits will play a major role in heart-healthy functional foods.

Participants will be prepared with actionable knowledge to navigate the complex regulatory and legal processes for using biotech ingredients in food products and minimizing product development and business risk. Participants will apply knowledge of biotech traits to the challenge of how to overcome ingredient nutrition and functionality challenges of edible oils, using a case study of biotech soybean oil.


Global Food Supply: How Do We Secure Food for the Future?

- IFT Annual Meeting Workshop (Chicago, IL), Jul 20, 2010, 8:30 AM http://www.am-fe.ift.org/cms/

Nearly one billion people around the world suffer from chronic food shortage and many more experience devastating undernutrition. At the same time, overnutrition is a serious problem in expanding parts of the world, where people have access to significantly more (but often nutrient-poor) calories. The United Nations has called for a 50% increase in food production by 2030. It warns industrialized countries to revitalize agriculture, increase yields and distribute food to areas in most need, or a global catastrophe is imminent.

Food technologists need to play a role in solving the food supply and demand issue. This session will help food technologists deepen their understanding of the driving factors behind the food shortage, and navigate the right solution for product development and business performance. Leading experts will examine the myriad of political, environmental and economic factors contributing to global food challenges and outline potential solutions. Among the solutions, panelists will address agricultural biotechnology as an option for a high-yield food supply.

However, what environmental and economic impacts will high-yield crops have? As a case study, experts will examine biotech soybean traits. Soybean oil is largely used by food companies (71% consumption in the United States alone) and soy protein is consumed around the world. Recent research focused on the sustainability of U.S. soybean production on conventional, biotech and organic farms, and the latest findings will be shared at this session. Food technologists can gain insights from this case study to apply to their own ingredient and business needs.

Session Moderator: Steve Poole, United Soybean Board, Seattle, WA; Presentations: Eileen Kennedy, Tufts Univ; Will A. Masters, Tufts Univ; C.S. Prakash, Tuskegee Univ; Richard S Wilkes, Monsanto Company; Richard Joost, United Soybean Board